LCS Summer Split 2021 recap: drama, misfortune, and roster swaps aplenty. Part 4: Where do I begin?
The LCS is the North American League of Legends professional league and one of the 4 major regions in the League of Legends Esports scene, where players compete on franchised teams for fame, pride, a considerable salary, and hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash prizes. You may remember my coverage of the spring split earlier this year and the preview of MSI. A lot has happened since then in regard to the LCS. Let’s see what we missed over these past 2 months
This is the final part of a 4-part recap. If you would like to see how C9 did at MSI or how 6 other teams did, please see that. Today I will be looking at the final team to fall out of Worlds contention. This is one of the most storied orgs in the LCS. This is one of the most expensive rosters with some of the biggest names currently in the league. Their summary on top of the other 2 teams I covered last time was so long I had to cut this into 2 articles. This is the story of…
4th TSM: 30-15 (18-9 in summer) – Regular season glory doesn’t amount to Worlds. Hard questions and mixed feelings abound.
Roster: Huni: Top, Spica: Jungle, PowerOfEvil: Mid, Lost: ADC, SwordArt: Support.
Despite Spring Split not ending the way they would’ve hoped, being double 3-1’d by their rivals in Team Liquid, TSM had a summer spilt to remember. It began as early as week 1 with a hard-fought victory over TL to notch yet another regular season h2h win under the belt. Spica was the star of the show (you will notice that sentiment popping up a lot) and put TL in the grave in a teamfight 44 minutes in. As for the rest of the week, their exploits vs EG were detailed in that section, and they took care of business against GG.
Week 2 was a minor setback. The new hotshots in 100 Thieves ran over TSM thanks to a star performance from new acquisition Abbedagge. TSM didn’t even show up to that game, it was a complete slaughter in all 5 positions. Their next game against Flyquest didn’t help as Flyquest would pick up their final win (despite Spica’s best efforts) before the dreaded 10-game loss streak. Thankfully, their old punching bag in CLG was the last game of the week. TSM fans had a hearty laugh as PowerOfEvil went 9/0/6 and they got to witness a once great rival franchise die in real time.
Week 3 was where things really started to pick up. It began with surviving a dogfight with Immortals that came down to the wire as PowerofEvil won the base race against the entirety of IMT. Dignitas put up a fight, but some heroics from Lost and Huni put the game away. In the final game of week 3, Huni and Spica worked together to put Fudge behind early, Lost was given time to scale and room to free-fire, and Huni had a beautiful Lee Sin play (see below) to cap off a victory over C9, their biggest rival and one of the competitors for top dog in the LCS.
Week 4 was mostly more of the same with TSM taking care of Flyquest with almost no ever, stumbling against an Evil Geniuses that was really ramping up, and finishing off the week with a 28 minute victory over a Team Liquid that looked to be turning it around, putting them at 4-0 on the year against one of their biggest rivals in the league. This also kept them tied for first overall with the other top team 100T at 21-9.
Week 5 was a bit of a mixed bag with an embarrassing surprise loss to Dignitas in which no one really showed up. They followed it up with a completely one-sided beatdown of an Immortals squad that was looking to prove that they were a contender. Every TSM member ended up leading their IMT counterparts by 2k gold or more. Finally, they capped of the week by destroying C9 again for 90% of the game. Lost and PowerOfEvil were able to take on the entirety of C9 by themselves. C9 began to fight back in the late game (well, Fudge did. Not so much on the rest), but Huni put a stop to that by Teleporting into the base after killing Fudge in the Elder Dragon fight. 4-0 against the other 2 members of the “Big 3”. 23-10, Only 1 game back of the lead. Everything was going right for TSM.
Unfortunately, things would take a turn for the worst as CLG would beat TSM in week 6 in a stunning upset. Although they would pick themselves up with a win over the Golden Guardians, the win came much more difficult than a 2nd vs 10th place match should have. They ended the week with a brutal loss to 100T in a vital game for the 1st seed and it put them withing striking distance of the rest of the good teams (EG, C9, TL). It would only get worse in week 7 as they kicked it off by throwing away a completely winnable game against a reinvigorated Flyquest. 4 members of TSM overextended with Baron buff in the top lane grouping up for Diamond to land a 3-man knockup and enable Kumo to carry the fight.
Fortunately for them, that is where there regular season woes end. TSM knocked down an IMT with momentum off a victory over C9 with little effort and in the final game of the week, they put the crowning jewel (and perhaps biggest achievement of their year) of summer. A complete dismantling of Team Liquid, mostly off the backs of Huni and Spica. TL never had a chance. On top of being a vital game for position, this meant TSM went 5-0 over Team Liquid in the regular season of 2021. Complete humiliation of a major rival. Much trash was talked by TSM and their fans while the TL faithful could say nothing in response. The vocal members of TL were forced to eat their words about having championship aspirations as they failed to beat their hated rival even once. Although EG would snatch a victory against them at the beginning of week 8 in a hard-fought contest, TSM would take care of business against GG, then have an almost equal achivment by stealing away a victory from Cloud 9. C9 completely threw the game (which was 18-6 in their favor) by trying to backdoor TSM at the Elder fight. Huni and PoE defended the base and TSM won the game off it. This put TSM at 4-1 over C9 in the regular season. It hurt slightly less for C9 as that team actually won Spring, but much bragging and bravado was had from the TSM faithful and TSM themselves.
This also tied them with 100T at 28-14 and put them 2 games ahead of the teams threatening to steal their bye with h2h over one of them. Week 9 saw TSM humiliate 100T and CLG while having a “for-fun” game against DIG as they had already clinched (every player played off-role). Spica also won player of the week. TSM would finish 1st in the regular season and tied 1st for best summer record. Spica would finish 1st All-Pro, PoE and Huni would finish 3rd team All-Pro while TSM fans claimed that SwordArt got snubbed in the voting. Everyone except Lost were top performers in their position. Spica enough to win Summer MVP.
What a turnaround from him going from being set up for failure in the TSM jungler carousel in 2019 and being scapegoated for their postseason failure to being the only one to stay after the dreaded 0-6 last year, becoming one of the most beloved members of the roster, and winning summer MVP. You have to love it. TSM secured a 1st round bye and were set to play the winner of TL/C9. Being a combined 9-1 against the two in regular season, TSM were set up to secure a Worlds spot and get a shot at redemption for the international embarrassment that was Worlds 2020.
Oh, how little we knew about the events that would transpire come playoff time.
TSM’s series against Team Liquid to put it bluntly, was a disaster. Game 1 saw TSM give Huni counterpick into Alphari’s 1st pick Gnar, hoping to get stuff done early with an Irelia looking to get ahead and Lee Sin for early jungle playmaking. Unfortunately, the TSM botlane made a terrible error at level 1 and SwordArt gave over 1st blood to Tactical. These mistakes in both decision making and mechanics would come to define the series. Huni was set up to carry but was rather silent in big fights. TL would have a minor gold lead at 25 minutes, but TSM would have 3 dragons. The game could go either way. Then at 28 minutes, Spica got a good ward-hop kick, but PowerOfEvil failed his Shurima Shuffle and planted into a wall. This left Spica a sitting duck and kneecapped TSM’s main source of constant damage. TSM would keep themselves in the game, but the key fight at 33 minutes was a series of misplays from TSM. Lost made an egregious error in positioning and facechecked a bush with Jensen and CoreJJ inside. Huni’s ultimate hit no one. TL would win the fight and eventually the game. That Irelia counterpick went 1/3/2 while Alphari was a key contributor in teamfights.
Game 2 saw Huni get counterpick with Wukong into Jayce, Spica would take away Xin from Santorin, while the rest of TSM would be put on comfort picks. Although the early game would be even, at 15 minuites, a rift herald fight would go very poorly as Jensen caught out PoE, CoreJJ’s Bard landed his ult onto the herald, Lost and Spica. TL took the herald and killed 4 to blow open the game. TL got all 4 dragons, double TSM’s kills, and won in only 28 minutes with a 10k gold lead. No member of TSM was even close to their TL counterparts.
Game 3 went well for TSM. Huni and Spica were a dominant topside with Huni being unkillable and Spica making plays on Lee Sin. PowerOfEvil tore through all of TL on Syndra going deathless while Jensen had a terrible game on Orianna going 1/6/2. Lost and SwordArt found new life on the Ezreal/Bard lane. TL would keep it close in gold (albeit TSM were stacking dragons) for 20 minutes before Jensen died twice in two minutes thanks to key picks from the Huni/SwordArt duo and PoE, TSM took the Baron and eventually the game without much resistance afterwards (final kill score was 18-5). TSM had shown signs of life. With a Worlds spot on the line, perhaps TSM could live up to expectations after all.
TSM would answer that question with a resounding NO as early as the draft phase.
Huni picked Lee Sin top, something that has been specifically nerfed to be a not priority solo-laner. Spica got Jarvan IV, a champ that had a resounding 1.3% presence in Summer across major regions and went a whopping 3-7. PoE moved away from control mages onto Leblanc. Lost got picked Aphelios while SwordArt chose Bard, Lost was on a champion with no escapes with 3 members of TL capable of diving on him while SwordArt didn’t pick a champ capable of stopping that. Is anyone even surprised that it was a complete stomp in TL’s favor? It was a complete stomp from start to finish as Santorin had free access onto the squishy members of TSM, Huni did almost nothing, PoE was invisible all game, and Spica could do nothing on such an underwhelming champ. Alphari, Santorin and Tatical went a combined 14/0/12.
All that trash talk was suddenly turned on its head as the previously unassailable TSM got humiliated by one of their biggest rivals when it mattered most. 3-1 is a deceiving score line, the series was much more TL favored. TSM went from a favorite for the title to a laughingstock in the span of 2 hours and 15 minutes.
Thankfully, TSM got their act together during the lower bracket match with Immortals. That series has been covered extensively in their recap so I will not touch on it here.
What is important is that their victory set up the biggest match of the entire LCS season. Maybe it was scripted, maybe it was fate, or perhaps it was just destiny, it would be Cloud 9 vs TSM in playoffs with the final World Championship seed on the line.
These teams have been the biggest of rivals ever since the LCS came to be back in 2013, trading games (52-48, Adv. C9), series (30-26, Adv. C9), and titles (7-4, Adv. TSM) back-and-forth. TSM has more claim to domestic success while C9 is the only NA team to make it to Worlds semifinals. With 319 thousand viewers and the two fanbases ready to kill each other, the two North American giants would do battle.
The draft was fairly standard game 1, until SwordArt threw it back to the 2020 World Championship with Pantheon support. The once staple support was reduced to a less than 1% presence across major regions in summer. And SwordArt picked him in game 1 of an elimination series. The pick worked wonders as he punished a 3 man realm warp from Perkz to pick up 1st blood, then TSM brought all 5 men to dive bot and pick up 4 kills total, giving TSM a huge lead early. They would accelerate the lead to 6k gold at 20 minutes. Blaber and Vulcan would try their hardest to keep C9 in it but Perkz and Zven got behind early and they couldn’t put out the damage they needed to. The frontline was unkillable, SwordArt was incredibly proactive and Lost and PoE ripped through C9 on the way to a game 1 victory.
Game 2 saw TSM run back the same compisiton with the only change being that they traded ADC’s and Jungler’s with C9. Despite the similar champions, the results were much different. Although TSM would get an early lead off the back of Spica, C9 found answers to TSM. Fudge’s Gnar was much more oriented for carrying the game and he found a kill early and got some great ults. Blaber was very comfortable on the Lee Sin. Most importantly, Zven’s Ezreal could kite away from any and all of TSM’s engage and damage. Including that Pantheon pick SwordArt found so much success on last game. Zven was able to stay out of stun range and rip through the squishy support as SwordArt would die 7 times and find little impact compared to game 1. TSM would keep it very competitive the game was back-and-forth in kills, TSM would hold a gold lead for quite a bit, and they even got Ocean Soul, Elder dragon, and Baron back-to-back. But Blaber and Perkz found a pick onto PoE and SwordArt at 40 minutes to stop the siege. It would all come down to an Elder Dragon fight at 42 minutes. Perkz would force Huni to TP back to base to stop him from ending the game, removing a piece of TSM’s frontline, Fudge would TP back to the fight at full health, and Zven would secure the Elder Dragon, the fight, and the game to tie the series up.
Game 3 would be a TSM stomp. Huni got ahead on the Camille early and he turned almost all of C9’s attempts to shut him down into more gold for him. The game would blow wide open at the fight for third dragon at 15 minuets. C9 got the dragon but Huni solo-killed Perkz when Perkz had help and the rest of TSM collapsed on the C9 stragglers. TSM picked up 5 kills, 2 towers, and a 4.4k gold lead off the back of one fight. The return kills and the dragon itself would be one of the last objectives C9 would get in game 3. Huni and the rest of TSM were just too ahead for C9 to fight back. Spica, PoE, and SwordArt all went deathless, and Huni himself went 10/3/5, 83% kill participation, 19k damage, and a 5k gold lead and 1 full item over Fudge. C9 could do nothing as TSM won every fight by massive margins and tore through the C9 base. TSM would put themselves at match point, and 1 game away from a Worlds spot, and the rite to laugh at their bitter rival for the next 3 months.
Unfortunately, TSM couldn’t get it done in game 4. The game would be a slow burner with TSM holding the kill lead 5-2 at 25 minuites but only a measly 500 gold lead with C9 having the first 2 dragons. Cloud 9 would begin to take the lead by dropping a Gangplank ultimate on a flashless Lost and Zven’s Jhin sniped down a fleeing Spica to secure a gold lead and allow them to take Baron. Cloud 9 would run away with the game from this point. Perkz was in the “1-2 comfort zone” and was on point with Syndra, landing multi-man stuns, blowing up Lost and PoE in one combo and going 8/1/6 with the most damage on his team at over 24 thousand. Zven wasn’t too far behind him on the Jhin as he completely outclassed Lost’s Ashe in damage, positioning, and utility. Vulcan was the unsung hero landing key Nautilus hooks, Blaber was an unkillable frontline and a general nusince, and Fudge showcased why he was voted Most Improved Player as his GP ultimates were key for winning fights.
This series was going to end in the only way it ever could have. A do-or-die game 5 with everything on the line in a brutal back-and-forth between NA’s biggest, most successful, and most historic rivals. The hype had reached a fever pitch as the two loaded onto Summoners Rift for game 5.
It’s too bad TSM didn’t feel like showing up for it.
Once again, TSM would end a series on a very questionable draft decision as Huni decided he was going to die on the hill of Nocturne top. A champ that after being massively nerfed in the solo lanes on 11.14, was only picked 3 times in major regions on 11.14 and was not picked at all on the playoff patch.
The early game was surprisingly even with Fudge getting a good teleport into mid to pick up first blood on PoE, Lost and SwordArt responding with a double kill bot, Vulcan catching out Lost on a rotation, and PoE getting a kill and escaping with a realm warp. Lost was the one set up to carry with three early kills. It didn’t look bad, but soon enough Perkz and Blaber would combo for two kills at dragon to give C9 a 1.5k gold lead. Fudge was one of the strongest members of C9 while Huni was practically invisible and C9 used that pressure point to further extend the gold lead. And despite Lost picking up early kills, he couldn’t pull away from Zven who got some of his own and outfarmed him. An engage around Baron at 21 minutes would all but seal TSM’s fate. Although SwordArt would land a big Rell Ult, TSM had no damage, and C9 turned the fight on its head with Perkz getting a triple kill, C9 securing the Baron, and expanding a 5.1k gold lead. TSM could do nothing for the rest of the game, Perkz and Fudge massively outperformed PoE and Huni. Blaber was landing key Diana ults while Spica couldn’t do much. The C9 went even with TSM’s and negated their only win condition. It was complete domination from C9 (21-5, 14k gold). One of the most promising regular seasons TSM had ended in the worst way possible. Losing a 5-game series to their biggest rival.
I really don’t know what to think about this TSM season. On one hand, rebuilding after going 0-6 at Worlds, losing 4 out of your 5 members including losing 2 of the biggest names in LoL esports history is no easy task and just the fact they didn't collapse is good. Spica really became one of the most popular players in LCS. The org has established that they are more than just Bjergsen and Doublelift and despite their loss being felt, they will still have an established fanbase.
They spent most of the regular season laughing at their major rivals, taking care of business, and all but running the league alongside 100T and EG. They truly looked a cut above coming into playoffs and I certainly had this team going to Worlds. Perhaps if Lost steps up next season and TSM cuts back on the questionable picks, TSM could have a bright future ahead of them.
On the other hand, they spent 6 million dollars on a World finalist, picked up some of the biggest and most storied names in the LCS, all in the name of getting over the international hump and didn’t even make it there.
There’s no sugarcoating it, TSM collapsed against two teams they were a combined 9-1 against in the regular season and their only playoff win was against a developmental roster that was just happy to be there.
The worst part of this all is that I have no idea where you go from here if you’re TSM.
The 3 Worlds reps have solid cores and enough spending money to patch up any holes. They aren’t going anywhere. And TSM looked completely outclassed by 1 of them (TL), would’ve gotten smacked by another (100T), and couldn’t close it out against the last (C9). Huni, PoE, and SwordArt have all been playing League for over 6 years by now. Do you really see them suddenly getting much better? Lost looked like the weak link for most of the season but you had to have seen that coming, he’s a rookie. Do you stick with him or throw him out for a big-name import, admitting you don’t know how to properly utilize talent? There are even rumors that their coach Bjergsen might be coming out of retirement. Does he save this team if he plays for TSM? I highly doubt it, but does he go elsewhere?
There are so many questions I have about TSM’s future and I’m not sure how they can break into the top 3. I don’t think just running it back is going to do it as I think the 3 Worlds reps are just better teams. I can’t advocate for blowing it up and shopping in free agency because who are you realistically going to find that’s better than your current options? You can’t rely on young talent because they either didn’t develop properly, are already playing for you, or got shipped off elsewhere. It feels like TSM is good, but not good enough. And I’m not sure how you get out of that agonizing cycle of futility. I do not envy those who have to make decisions for TSM this offseason.
If you are wondering where the 100 Thieves, Team Liquid, or Cloud 9 recaps are, they will be covered in my preview of the 2021 World Championship taking place in Reykjavík, Iceland. I hope to see you back here soon!