The odyssey of Bjergsen, part one

Søren "Bjergsen" Bjerg led Team SoloMid to a 2014 summer finals win against Cloud9. Riot Games

This is part one of a three-part series chronicling the rise of superstar mid laner Søren "Bjergsen" Bjerg in professional League of Legends. Part two is here. Part three is here.

In the winter of 2012, Søren "Bjergsen" Bjerg made his professional debut at a League of Legends event as a member of the Copenhagen Wolves at DreamHack Winter. Although he only finished in a tie for third place, the Wolves losing to established European powerhouse Counter Logic Gaming in the semifinals would be the tournament that changed the 16-year-old Dane's life forever.

"I almost ended up not going because the anxiety was getting to me," Bjergsen posted publicly on Facebook in February of 2014. "But [Martin "Deficio" Lynge] (who was our manager at the time) eventually, after a long talk with me and my dad, talked me into going, promising that he would watch over me, and help me with anything that I needed. I was an extremely awkward kid who didn't know how to do anything by himself, so having someone like Deficio who could help me out if I ever needed anything really lowered my anxiety level."

Back then, Bjergsen was slightly gawky, fidgeting in his seat as he did interviews and attempting to avoid eye contact. He was your average sixteen-year-old who was thrust into the spotlight too soon without any training: propped up as some sort of prodigy in this expanding world of competitive gaming across the globe. Someone with anxiety put in a situation where thousands -- and soon millions -- of eyes would be watching every twitch of the Dane's finger and wiggle of the brow.

Almost four years after his first pro game, only one thing's remained the same. And that's the man sitting next to him, jungler Dennis "Svenskeren" Johnsen, who played alongside him on the Copenhagen Wolves. When Bjergsen stepped on stage to receive his third North American League Championship Series (LCS) MVP award, his speech to the thousands peering down on him was clear and eloquent. He accepted his award humbly and the mass of Team SoloMid fans who were in attendance flooded the venue with chants of "T-S-M!" to serenade their ace.

In between his first tournament and the finals in Toronto, Bjergsen has seen himself evolve in many ways: as a person, as a player and a teammate. When he was finally old enough to compete in the European LCS, he turned heads with pure technical skill, outplaying players with years and years of pro-gaming experience over him.

"My first encounter with Bjergsen was back in early S2 where we competed against each other on the ladder," says Deficio, now a commentator for the European LCS. "We had a few classic moments together [playing together] and then started talking online. He was super nice and I always thought of Bjergsen as a normal kid who just wanted to play video games. We ended up playing together on an online team and I considered him a friend."

In his rookie season against Against All Authority of France, Bjergsen managed to get a Pentakill, or five kills in a row, putting an end to an eight-game losing streak to pick up Copenhagen Wolves' first win of the season. Bjergsen was able to turn around a woeful first half of the season with the help of Svenskeren and Deficio, who was now in a starting support role. When the regular season came to a close, the Wolves were a respectable fifth place with a record of 13 wins and 15 losses, a record good enough to make the postseason in Bjergsen's first season.

"I wanted him to play with us on Copenhagen Wolves and travel around Europe to compete at events but he turned us down at first," continues Deficio. "I remember talking to him a lot about why and his concerns and quickly learned more about him as a person and his past. I understood his reservations but he was such a friendly and funny guy once you got to know him so I knew he would have fun with the team, if he would just give it a try."

"I'm super happy that he finally said yes after talking to his dad. Once I met him in real life, he was shy for like five minutes and then we instantly hit it off. We were all a bunch of nerds who just wanted to talk about video games so it was clear he felt at home pretty quickly and realised that we were all friends and here to help each other."

In the playoffs, Bjergsen and Svenskeren would meet the same fate with as they had in their first offline tournament: elimination by CLG.EU, now under the rebranded banner of Evil Geniuses. Bjergsen's momentum would carry onto the summer split when he joined famous Swedish organization Ninjas in Pyjamas, finishing the regular-season this time with a 15-3 standing and going into the playoffs once again as the fifth seed. Unfortunately, Bjergsen failed to get out of the quarterfinals for the second straight split, this time losing in a sweep to the Russian giants of Gambit Gaming.

"It was nice seeing all the Bjergsen hype pay off when he finally did join the EU LCS, since he was too young to compete in their initial qualifier for first few weeks of the season," says NA LCS commentator David "Phreak" Turley. "His very first game was his whole team just getting smashed by Fnatic, but the game everyone remembers is when he gets Copenhagen Wolves their first win; he goes absolutely nuts on Syndra, gets the first pentakill of the season, and suddenly all the hype is real. EU mids, man."

"He goes absolutely nuts on Syndra, gets the first pentakill of the season, and suddenly all the hype is real. EU mids, man." David "Phreak" Turley

While Bjergsen was breaking out as a star in Europe, Team SoloMid, the once undisputed king of North America, was getting its teeth knocked out by a newcomer. Cloud9, a rookie organization with an all-American starting five, took the NA LCS by storm in the summer of 2013, and TSM's roster was no match for the new challengers clad in sky blue and white.

On Nov. 2, 2013, Team SoloMid disappointed at the World Championships, unable to make it through the group stage. TSM's founder and starting mid laner at the time, Andy "Reginald" Dinh, stepped down and was replaced by the Danish wunderkind. Reginald built the empire, and he left the keys to Bjergsen, ushering in a new era for Team SoloMid. TSM, a organization that came to fame through a combination of successful results and a wide array of engaging characters who connected with fans through vlogs, was now stepping into uncharted waters without the only leader it had ever known.

"When I left Europe to join TSM, I was not the shy kid, shaking and stuttering in his first interview on stage," said Bjergsen from the public Facebook post. "I wasn't the kid who dodged all interviews and ran away from conflict. I wasn't always wearing long shirts because I was insecure about my weight and arms. I was a changed person, and I still am."

To say Reginald's decision to hand the reins over to Bjergsen was a good decision would be an understatement. In the Dane's first season with the team, he won the Weekly MVP award three times (consecutively his first two weeks) and was awarded the overall MVP for his astonishing play. His mechanical play from the beginning was superb; like the East's leading once-in-a-generation prodigy, Lee "Faker" Sang-hyeok of South Korea's SK Telecom T1, it was apparent Bjergsen's individual skill ceiling was different than a majority of the players he lined up against on Summoner's Rift.

"The most memorable first moments with Bjergsen was when him, [Jason "WildTurtle" Tran] and I were in Disneyland, including when they shared their first churro (I don't know if it has continued)," says Alex "Xpecial" Chu, Bjergsen's starting support when he first transferred over to TSM. "We all got along really well and shared in many trolly moments while on the team. Bjerg was the immediate replacement for Regi who was the main shotcaller of TSM and he, Bjerg, learned to be a talkative mid laner who absolutely crushed lane and [would] be known as the best mid laner NA has ever seen."

While TSM went a lackluster 14-14 in the summer of 2013 with an 11-game disadvantage behind Cloud9, Bjergsen's influence on the team in the spring of 2014 lifted the team to a 22-6 record that only trailed the juggernaut C9 by two matches. Bjergsen's squad made the finals, which was his first time qualifying for a match of that magnitude. Although his rise was ceremonious, his rival at the time, Hai Lam, had the edge. As C9 did when it played Reginald's TSM the season prior, it swept TSM in a one-sided affair to spoil the dream debut for the Dane.

If Bjergsen was fire, Hai was ice. Although Hai would deal with persistent wrist injuries that eventually led him to retire at one point, his greatest weapon was his mind. A master tactician and the commander of the Cloud9 army, he led his team to back-to-back championships in his first two seasons as a pro gamer. What he lacked in mechanical prowess against Bjergsen he more than made up for in brains. Bjergsen's talent was evident in the first final they played against each other; however, his unsharpened fangs were no match for a player that had the trust of his entire team behind him.

"I didn't know who would be able to fill Reginald's shoes as he was the best midlaner during his prime until we came along," says Hai. "Even though we consistently beat TSM [when they fielded] Regi, he was still a very great mid laner that a lot of people fail to remember. So here comes a new kid trying to replace who I thought was the best [mid laner] after myself and I wasn't sure what to think. His mechanics were great but his understanding of when to sacrifice himself/resources to bring the team further ahead weren't there yet."

Bjergsen matured a great deal that summer of 2014. He saw TSM's roster change for the first time since he came onboard, with Brian "TheOddOne" Wyllie retiring and German jungler Maurice "Amazing" Stückenschneider taking his spot, and Xpecial replaced by rookie Nicholas "Gleeb" Haddad at the starting support position. The season wouldn't be as successful as the last, and the introduction of the all-Chinese team LMQ gave Bjergsen another team and rival mid laner to worry about.

It would in fact be LMQ's ace Yu "XiaoWeiXiao" Xian who would receive the MVP award that summer, not Bjergsen. The TSM frontman failed to pick up even a Weekly MVP accolade throughout an up-and-down season where TSM finished with the third best regular-season record. Cloud9 would once again top the ladder, and this time the consecutive winners of the NA LCS were matched in record by XiaoWeiXiao and his teammates on LMQ.

At the tail end of the regular season, Reginald and TSM decided to make another bold roster decision by switching out the support position with only two weeks remaining before playoffs. Gleeb was replaced by Ham "Lustboy" Jang-sik, a veteran of the professional scene overseas, having played on the historic Blaze club that won the first domestic championship in South Korea. The move, while risky so late in the season, paid off when the playoffs began, shaking off a rocky end to the regular-season to blow past an improved Dignitas in the quarterfinals.

"So here comes a new kid trying to replace who I thought was the best [mid laner] after myself and I wasn't sure what to think." Hai Lam

"At the moment I walked in the house [and] saw him, I wasn't surprised or anything," recalls Lustboy on meeting Bjergsen for the first time. "Just what I thought was 'Oh, that's Bjergsen and I saw his name sometimes on some random montages. Must be just one of [those] young rookies as usual.'"

"But then I had to be surprised [because] the rumors [that] I heard were 'Western teams are really lazy' or 'They only practice shortly and don't do overtime.' Back then everyone was dedicated but definitely Bjergsen was one of the most. A common mistake many players [worldwide] do is they dedicate into [the] game too much and don't care about their life or teammates, but he was always nice to people and [cared] about his schedule. Living and playing with him was really [enjoyable] and motivated me."

In the final four of the 2014 summer playoffs, it was a meeting between Bjergsen, the spring MVP, and XiaoWeiXiao, the summer MVP. During the series, the two primarily played differing styles -- XiaoWeiXiao falling back towards his assassin favorite with the free-flowing Yasuo, and Bjergsen steadying himself with his control mage selections of Syndra, Orianna, and Xerath. The two were in a tennis volleying rally of sorts, returning each other's best shot until TSM forced a fifth and final game to decide who would go to the finals. When the team needed him to perform like a superstar, Bjergsen did just that: his KDA was 6/1/7, and his only death took place at the end of the game when he sacrificed his Xerath to LMQ's fountain in celebration.

XiaoWeiXiao would never reach the same heights again in North America, eventually being ousted from the NA LCS for ELO boosting, the act of leveling up another player's account online for monetary gain. Bjergsen, though, was only beginning his ascent.

"Many people have been comparing him to Faker," Lustboy says. "I haven't played a single [scrimmage] with [Faker], but I expect, [given] Bjergsen's talents and attitude, [his] efforts are at least even or better than Faker's."

The meeting of fire and ice would reignite in the summer finals at PAX Prime in Seattle, Washington. Hai's Zed overpowered Bjergsen's Fizz in a clash of assassins in a one-sided game one for C9. In the second, the C9 captain's selection of an assassin, this time Yasuo, would be his downfall, a pitiable 1/9/7 scoreline staring back at him as Bjergsen's Syndra tied up the series.

"As he played more and more, he learned how to not only play as a teammate but as a leader as well," Hai continues. " All of that, on top of his mechanics, [made] him the best mid laner in NA."

The series would come down to a fateful game five. As it was for the entire series, the match was an even affair with the late game sitting at a quiet standstill. One fight determined it all: the five members of TSM working in tandem to execute the perfect teamfight against a team heralded for its coordination in decisive moments. Yes, it was Bjergsen who starred, but it was also Lustboy. It was top laner Marcus "Dyrus" Hill. It was Amazing. And it was WildTurtle, in the center of it all on Tristana, securing the four kills needed in the final battle to dethrone the team that forced TSM's founder to lay down his sword for good.

Reginald rushed to the stage to celebrate with his players in the moment of glory, seeing the decisions he made bear fruit in front of his eyes. This was the moment where fans knew, as long as Bjergsen was involved, TSM would always be alright in the end. The kid who was once too scared to go to a tournament and needed coaxing to attend was now a champion.

A leader.

A superstar.

"There's a reason why he's the most popular," finishes Hai, giving his last thoughts on the greatest rival in the mid lane he would ever know. "Because he deserves it."