Some point to the coaching staff. Many point to the pressure the TSM organization and community place on their own players. But TSM’s recent string of failure may not be derived from either of these things.
TSM has a persistent volatility in the jungle, and bot laner Jesper “Zven” Svenningsen, once part of the “Best in the West” laning duo, has a mentality more volatile than TSM’s growing list of junglers.
During the spring split of 2019, TSM had looked better than it had in more than a year. It had one of the most inexpensive rosters in the league, but still managed to take Team Liquid to five games in the spring playoff finals. TSM appeared to have recovered from its 2018 slump and many expected them to come back even stronger during the summer, potentially as North America’s new number one team.
But Matthew “Akaadian” Higginbotham, the squad’s starting jungler, was put in a difficult position. Former jungler Jonathan “Grig” Armao had recovered from the injury that prevented him from playing during the spring. So TSM, trying to be fair, had Akaadian and Grig share the starting position. But this exchange proved to be part of TSM’s downfall. Even after settling on a single jungler, synergy between jungler and lanes had plummeted irrecoverably.
During the spring, Akaadian’s synergy with Sergen “Broken Blade” Çelik was among the strongest in the LCS. Their 2v2 and 2v1 strategies centered around the top lane won many games for them. In the summer, that strong point became nonexistent. And as the top lane synergy disappeared, none of the other lanes produced a significantly stronger early game to compensate.
Many thought that TSM would stick to improving Akaadian’s performance. But heading into week nine, TSM brought in academy jungler Mingyi “Spica” Lu. TSM refused to stand by a single jungler throughout the entirety of the split.
It was reasoned by TSM’s management that the other choices weren’t working and that this was the logical outcome. However, inserting another completely new presence into the team after deliberating over two very different players for a majority of the split was hardly conducive to stability for the team. This was a decision made out of desperation.
Before coming to North America, Zven along with Alfonso “Mithy” Aguirre Rodríguez was considered an elite bottom lane in western League of Legends. That pedigree breeds a culture of winning.
When Zven first came to TSM, the most dominant team in North America, he expected victory. But at the end of the 2019 spring split, Zven blamed himself for TSM’s failures and was visibly shaken.
In interviews, Zven talks about his dedication to competing, and admitted that he associates his happiness with winning. But after the spring finals, Zven’s performance plummeted. He went from having the third-best marksmen stats in the league to not even being in the top half.
Zven’s mindset towards the game is part of what makes him as good as he is, but taking on that much pressure can cause inconsistency when things aren’t going well. The effects of that overwhelming pressure have already been made evident after former jungler Michael “MikeYeung” Yeung’s time on TSM. The stress of being in the spotlight of a top team caused him to crumple, being relegated to Academy until 2019 when he was called up by Echo Fox but continued to underperform.
Zven’s mindset did not change throughout the summer. Several interviews proved his determined but potentially self-destructive attitude. This all occurred even with TSM’s paying a sports psychologist to support the roster. And despite new jungler Spica putting forth his best effort, there was no way a rookie jungler that had less than two weeks to prepare for playoffs would perform well against the LCS’ top veteran talents and form proper synergies with his new teammates.
With the gauntlet being TSM’s final opportunity, for this year’s World Championship most onlookers have little hope for their chances heading into Worlds, expecting TSM’s quick elimination from an LCS stage that they once seemed to own.