The odyssey of Bjergsen, part three

Team SoloMid in a triumphant huddle at IEM San Jose, Bjergsen center. Patrick Strack/ESL

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

There's a story for each of Bjergsen's three years (and counting) with Team SoloMid. 2014 was the launching point. It was the first time his skill was put on display for the North American audience. He dazzled, and the fans swarmed. The ending was perfect: a triumph over mid lane rival Hai "Hai" Lam and Cloud9 to win the North American League of Legends Championship Series title.

What today's fan might not necessarily see in that fairy tale is the complex and challenging set of circumstances that Bjergsen had to thrive in.

"My first impression of Bjergsen in Spring 2014 when he came to the North American LCS was that he was a bit over-hyped in his skill level, but I later learned that his potential had been understated," says NA LCS caster Aidan "Zirene" Moon. "In a world where [Lee "Faker" Sang-hyeok] had just taken the world by storm, most mid laners looked weak in comparison to the greatest League player the world had ever seen, but you could immediately tell that there was unharnessed greatness within Bjergsen. His introduction into the LCS was one of the most daunting challenges a player could have: he was in a foreign country, replacing the most vocal member of the most popular team that was struggling to find domestic success [against] a record-breaking Cloud9."

In 2015, the rise and fall. The team's overdependence on Bjergsen through the spring into the summer finally culminated in the fall of the TSM empire with only Bjergsen left to clean up the rubble.

And now we come to the conclusion: 2016, the rebuilding. TSM wanted to reclaim everything it had lost to rival Counter Logic Gaming that one Sunday night in New York City where everything that could have gone wrong went wrong. In Oct 2015, Bjergsen's squad swooped in to sign one of the players who had beaten them at Madison Square Garden, Yiliang "Doublelift" Peng, a superstar AD carry who apparently didn't fit into CLG's future plans after an unsatisfactory trip to Worlds.

The team was then built around the two offensive dynamos. Dennis "Svenskeren" Johnsen, Bjergsen's old Copenhagen Wolves teammate from the beginning of his career in EU, joined the roster. Kevin "Hauntzer" Yarnell, an upstart top laner with a year of pro experience on Gravity, signed as the new starter. At the support role, after trying out Raymond "kaSing" Tsang, a relative newcomer, in a preseason tournament, the team decided to go with an all-time great in Bora "YellOwStaR" Kim. Where Bjergsen and Doublelift had failed at the 2015 World Championships, YellOwStaR triumphed, captaining the European side Fnatic all the way to the semifinals.

"I thought TSM completely rebuilding around Bjergsen after the 2015 year was a fantastic idea," Zirene says. "In theory, it was great: a self sufficient top laner that picked up champions quickly and played what the team needed, an aggressive Lee Sin-loving jungler that was more than just another ward for Bjergsen, a consistent second threat in the form of an ADC who plays to dominate his lane, and a support who was just coming off a Worlds semifinals appearance and was touted as one of the greatest shotcallers in the West."

For the coaching staff, TSM decided to appoint esports outsider KC Woods as head coach and Joshua "Jarge" Smith as the assistant coach. It also enlisted the help of Weldon Green, a sports psychology skills trainer, for a period of time in the middle of the season.

"I have worked with and played with some of the biggest stars in the NBA and MLB, and I had still never seen a player with such drive and passion to learn," says Woods. "In traditional sports you hear about some of the greats like Jerry Rice, Tom Brady, Michael Jordan, or Kobe Bryant who were known to be on a different level when it came to their work ethic. Being great was never enough, they were never satisfied. That was what I saw in Bjergsen. He took in every perspective he could that could make him better, he didn't want to waste time doing something that wasn't making better, and he was willing to sacrifice everything to win. He embodied greatness and what it means to be a champion."

"I have worked with and played with some of the biggest stars in the NBA and MLB, and I had still never seen a player with such drive and passion to learn." KC Woods

Yet, for how good the lineup looked on paper, it failed to deliver on stage. TSM didn't sprint out of the gates, and Woods was relieved of his duties only a month into the season. It was an inverse of the problem which plagued them the previous year.

"[The roster] in practice was just too many voices and not enough focus," says Zirene. "The spring split regular season was awful for TSM. Doublelift and Bjergsen had both been groomed into shotcalling and dictating the pace of the game, but that style conflicted with YellOwStaR's patient style that then caused dissonance in the team's style. You could see that the team had the individual skill, but the half-followed calls were damning in a game that was becoming more and more about teamwork and synergy/alignment in your ranks."

The issue was trust. The starting five, for all their individual prowess, were a fractured whole. Bjergsen had to learn how to let others take the wheel. Doublelift had to learn to play with a support who didn't fit his style. Hauntzer was thrust from a team, Gravity, that attracted no public attention to a team where his every mistake was discussed on reddit. Svenskeren had been an attacking-style ace himself in Europe and needed to learn how to play behind Bjergsen and Doublelift.

"When spring playoffs rolled around, the team was more aligned on how they wanted to play the game," says Zirene. "Weldon had been brought on to work with TSM and create a more cohesive team that became closer in ideology on how they wanted to play the game. I don't fully credit Weldon with TSM's sixth place regular split finish all the way to the finals in Las Vegas, but it is undeniable that he had a large effect on the team's ability to play together."

TSM found its footing late in the season and made another miraculous run to the finals, echoing the 2014 summer postseason. In Las Vegas this time around, the matchup was the same: Counter Logic Gaming vs. Team SoloMid. CLG had players who trusted each other and a Doublelift replacement, rookie Trevor "Stixxay" Hayes, who wanted to prove his worth. TSM was a talented group of players learning what it meant to be a team under great expectations. In the end, although the contest was closer than last season, CLG would take home the trophy again for the second straight split in a five-game marathon.

Svenskeren, though, believed TSM had the ability to beat anyone, even when not playing at their absolute peak.


"We got Bjergsen, so we can [win]," he said.

The trust was building. The summer split would see the emergence of a truly new and improved TSM.

"In the summer split the team was readjusted to a new mindset, and came out of the gate fully on the same page of how they wanted to play their matches: by dominating the lane," Zirene says. "With the bottom lane being rebuilt around Doublelift and his playstyle, the team's strengths on paper that got all of the fans excited about a TSM Super Team were now unlocked. Doublelift was now the lane-dominant secondary threat TSM needed, and Svenskeren's focus was much more in-sync with Bjergsen's needs as a laner and freed him up to once again return to the form he was known for: smashing his lane opponent, and eventually [taking] the game."

YellOwStaR had departed in the short offseason and rookie Vincent "Biofrost" Wang took his place following speculation about the support role. A veteran behind the fresh face, Biofrost stabilized the bottom lane with Doublelift, and the pair's comparable styles meshed well together.

In the middle of it all, Bjergsen played possibly the best season of his entire career. Stats-wise, he finished the regular summer split with 166 kills, 62 deaths, and 275 assists for a KDA of 7.1. Only Cloud9's mid laner Nicolaj "Jensen" Jensen had more kills, but Bjergsen died less and assisted more.

He wasn't a one man show like the last summer split, but he didn't need to be. By just being Bjergsen, the best player in North America, he opened up the map for his teammates to succeed at their roles. And unlike before, he trusted them wholeheartedly, confident that Hauntzer could make a play in the top lane and/or Doublelift in the bottom. Teams piled resources into defeating Bjergsen as they did when TSM fell in 2015, but Bjergsen was no longer alone: he had teammates who could stand with him. Doublelift took up a majority of the burden when it came to shotcalling, allowing Bjergsen to avoid being bogged down from constantly making every call on the map.

Not five individuals, or two superstars. A team.

"[Bjergsen] is very much about playing everything 'the right way' or 'the most efficient way,'" says Jarge, who left the team in the spring split. Woods and Jarge would be replaced by Weldon Green and Parth Naidu, respectively. "He can at some times be very easy to predict, but only in that you can predict that he will often make the right choice and execute it near flawlessly."

Jarge adds, "Doublelift, for me, is the opposite. While Doublelift definitely understands the fundamentals of LoL, he also sees the thought processes and flaws of other teams and is able to think of very creative ways to find an advantage, even if someone had not made that particular move before."

"The combination of Bjergsen's analytical prowess and [Yiliang "Doublelift" Peng's] creative thinking allows them to not only execute on textbook plays, but also adapt and evolve faster than any others" Joshua "Jarge" Smith

A burning question from the start of the rebuild was if Bjergsen and Doublelift could coexist. These were two players considered the top of their position in the league, but they also both finished 2015 with no team around them, as Bjergsen was left behind and Doublelift ousted. Instead of a war of egos or fighting over who the true ace was, the two combined, forming a partnership and friendship that took each other to the next level of their careers.

"While the two of them are great players separately, together they make, in my opinion, the most dangerous combination in Western League history," Jarge says. "Both are among the elite both in terms of mechanical skill in their roles, but also at strategic understanding and execution. The combination of Bjergsen's analytical prowess and Doublelift's creative thinking allows them to not only execute on textbook plays, but also adapt and evolve faster than any others."

TSM couldn't, and wouldn't, be stopped in its quest to regain the championship. It only dropped one series in the entire summer split and it ripped through CLG in the semifinals in three games, avenging the last two finals where they fell short.

It was onward to the final where C9 awaited for the fifth time in the two teams' histories.

There, in front of a sold-out crowd of 15,000 people, a majority of them wearing the black and white of Team SoloMid, Bjergsen did not have to lift anyone or anything on his back. The only thing around his shoulders was the arms of his teammates, walking together as one towards the NA LCS trophy. The rebuild was complete: a tough 3-1 victory over Cloud9, and a fourth domestic title for TSM.

"Bjergsen has done what most European midlaners fail to do: become a team player and leader while maintaining your mechanical level," says shoutcaster and former teammate Martin "Deficio" Lynge, the man who has seen him grow from his first tournament in Sweden to now. "Bjergsen's mechanics are not head-and-shoulders above other talented EU mid laners through time, but his understanding of the game and how to play with his team is fantastic. He is much more aware of when to roam, how to set up plays with his jungler and how to impact multiple areas of the map at once. He never seems to tilt and he has the experience and confidence now to always perform in important matches."

At the post-match press conference, Bjergsen sat with his teammates, smiling, looking over at the various media groups from across the world to interview him and his team. Gone was the stuttering and apprehension. He was comfortable, elated with his teammates to accomplish a small but significant step towards the ultimate goal of the Summoner's Cup.

"I think every team scrims between six and nine hours probably like five or six days a week," Bjergsen said. "The difference between the top teams and the middle pack teams is what you do outside of that time. We scrim on LCS days. We wake up and watch [game tape] in the morning before scrims. So, in League, the hard work is you can always work harder. You can always have more conversations with your team, theorycraft, watch more [game tape]. You can even schedule more scrims."

The young Dane continued: "I just think that I haven't personally found a way I can improve without spending more and more time. I think it all came from [South] Korea where they practice 15 hours a day, and our team [said], 'Well, if we want to beat the Koreans, we need to practice just as much.' So we just practice to the point of burnout [...] and try to pull it back afterwards. It's all about trying to optimize those hours."

Bjergsen is a prodigy, but it would be unfair to confine him to that label. When I talked to everyone associated with Bjergsen over the years, yes, his natural talent was brought up, but that wasn't the part of his character that stayed with people.

"I mean other than the fact that he works harder than everyone else," says his former teammate Marcus "Dyrus" Hill when asked about Bjergsen. "Not much else to say.

"He deserves what he has."

Above all else, he is a hard worker. Bjergsen will push himself to the brink for his team, and even when it was damaging, accept the weight of every TSM fan's dreams. When Bjergsen falls, he gets right up, putting his nose to the grindstone to work even harder for the next event. Win or lose, there is always something to improve upon.

He doesn't accept being called the best Western player in the world. He wants to be the best player in the world on a team that can beat the South Koreans, Chinese, Europeans and anyone else who challenges TSM for the Summoner's Cup. He doesn't accept being above average or even greatness. If Faker stands above him, two world championships in tow, and seemingly a heaven's distance between them, Bjergsen doesn't aim to reach him -- he aims to surpass him.

"I have never been as happy as I am right now in life, and I want to thank everyone I've met and that has been in my life the past year," Bjergsen said on that public Facebook post almost three years ago, a few months after signing with TSM. "I especially want to thank Deficio... If it wasn't for him I wouldn't be here today, he opened himself up to me, and I strived to become confident like he was. I wish him all the best luck in the future."

Today, Deficio responds:

"I want to thank Bjergsen for being an inspiration for any person out there who struggle with confidence, friendship and [fitting] in socially their teenage years. He is one of the nicest and most hard working people in the scene, and he earned all of this himself.

"PS: Danish dinner party at Worlds is on you."