To say the end of Team SoloMid's 2015 season was a disappointment would be an understatement.
After winning the IEM World Championship tournament in Katowice, Poland, in March, TSM went from a scrappy underdog with mediocre international results to a squad expected to compete against -- and beat -- the world's top teams. While an international victory didn't mean it would be hoisting the Summoner's Cup, it raised TSM's expectations from empty moral wins to victory on the grandest stages.
But with loftier expectations came a demoralizing finish to the year. After the Mid-Season Invitational, where TSM was easily dispatched by its regional counterparts, it sputtered to a forgettable Summer NA LCS end with a crushing 3-0 loss in the finals to rival Counter Logic Gaming. Although TSM qualified for a spot at worlds, their stagnated, unevolving playing style was ineffective against the stronger teams from opposing regions. By the end of the 2015 world championship, TSM were left with nowhere to go, having only managed a single map win in six group-stage games.
The last blow was their constant on the team, Marcus "Dyrus" Hill, who announced his retirement from pro gaming in an interview following the final 2015 loss. The last pillar of the inaugural Team SoloMid that entered the North America LCS, Dyrus' exit from the team signaled the closing of an era.
What came next was a near-total roster purge and a plan to build a new team around former NA LCS MVP Søren "Bjergsen" Bjerg. The ace of TSM, Bjergsen was one of the lone bright spots in the latter half of 2015, the Danish star showing the capability of sticking with the world's elite in lane. When SoloMid was at its best last year, Bjergsen was almost always at the center, hard-carrying his squad through a turbulent and topsy-turvy LCS campaign.
Following the departures of most of the team, TSM was left with the difficult task of trying to build a team that could communicate clearly in English, play around superstar Bjergsen, and bring the LCS title back to SoloMid.
Now, a day before the 2016 season kicks off, Team SoloMid believes it has done exactly that. It all began only hours following the end of the 2015 world championship, where TSM failed to deliver: Yiliang "Doublelift" Peng almost breaking the Internet with the announcement he was leaving Counter Logic Gaming. Seemingly minutes after that, a video by Team SoloMid emerged, featuring Doublelift throwing away his iconic CLG uniform into the trash and officially joining TSM for 2016.
"During my time on CLG, I built relationships and overcame adversity of incredible magnitude. The hardship culminated in a tremendously tough team that was able to win the NA LCS in a convincing fashion, cementing my position as one of the truly elite," Doublelift told ESPN.com. "I will always savor these memories, and use them to propel TSM into a greater position.
"This is fortunately a team with a history of winning, backed by Bjergsen as one of the greatest mid laners of our time. The only thing I truly care about is growth, and we have much work to do to live up to the expectations. I am confident that through time and struggle, we will be able to reach boundaries previously inaccessible by North America."
The acquisition of CLG's star AD carry, on paper at least, has fixed one of TSM's main issues. For a large part of the year, Bjergsen, 19, was forced to either carry the game through a mountain of kills, or TSM would fall apart without a consistent offensive force.
"Bjergsen is a player with incredible work ethic, and we get along very well through our understanding of the game and mutual respect for mechanical skill," Doublelift, 22, said about his new teammate. "Both of us have been able to stay at the top of our positions through persistence and dedication to improvement. Though he is considerably younger than me, he and I have become fast friends and great teammates. I predict this TSM roster to have a weak and disappointing start, but continually ramp up as the season progresses, eventually surpassing all other western teams."
Another new name to TSM's starting five this year will be its top laner, Kevin "Hauntzer" Yarnell, who replaces the stalwart Dyrus.
"After [the] summer split ended, I started looking for a new team to join because I felt I needed a new environment for me to play in that allows me to play at my best," Hauntzer said. "Dyrus had just announced his retirement and TSM has always been a top organization in League of Legends, so I thought they were the best team for me. The main differences between Gravity and TSM is how much effort and how focused people are. Everyone on TSM is very hardworking and focused on winning."
TSM, in another attempt to fix one of its holes, also signed one of the West's most aggressive junglers, Dennis "Svenskeren" Johnsen. Throughout 2015, TSM was criticized heavily for its lackadaisical opening 10 minutes of play, resulting in getting knocked out against faster-paced teams at worlds. Svenkseren, formerly of SK Gaming, wants to be the answer to TSM's early-game woes.
"I hope to bring my 'aggressive playstyle' to TSM and NA LCS," Svenskeren told ESPN. "However, since the team is basically a whole new team [only Bjergsen remains], I will see what playstyle fits the team the most. Everyone may need to adapt, including me, to that, since last year the team probably had the most success playing passive, which was why they would always had that playstyle."
The Danish jungler's journey to North America wasn't exactly smooth, though, having been the center of a controversy during the offseason. H2k-Gaming from the EU LCS and TSM battled for Svenskeren's talents, but he eventually signed with TSM; the Europeans then signed ROCCAT's Marcin "Jankos" Jankowski.
The final piece of TSM's reconfigured puzzle came following a lengthy period of speculation on who it would sign to start at the support role. Although Bjergsen is arguably one of the best talents in the world mechanically, TSM's late-game shot-calling and macro play left a lot to be desired in the final stretches of 2015. Unless Bjergsen was able to single-handedly carry a game from the mid game, TSM were often left in situations where it fell flat when making crucial decisions in the climactic minutes.
Enter Bora "YellOwStaR" Kim, one of the most decorated Western League of Legends players of all time. After Fnatic was gutted in the 2014 offseason, YellOwStaR rebuilt his team and led it to one of the most successful years of any team in either LCS: Fnatic won two domestic titles and didn't drop a game the entire summer split. He capped his astounding 2015 by leading his boys in orange to the semifinals of the 2015 world championship before falling to the Korean KOO Tigers.
"In early 2015, I was in charge of building a new team. When the last world championship ended in October, two members of the team decided to leave. Afterward, I considered the opportunities I was offered and playing with TSM was one of them," YellOwStaR said. "After they revealed their roster for the upcoming season for 2016, I was interested in being among them, especially after our discussion where the players and management showed great motivation and similar goals. Having such experienced players will allow us to compete at the highest level, which is the main reason I chose to join TSM.
"Also, experience is also something I highly value, living in a new environment, getting to work with new people and trying my best to improve on a daily basis."
In 2015, YellOwStaR played with two different AD carries on Fnatic, and he'll now be given the task of playing with a third bottom lane partner in three splits. The potential firepower of Doublelift and YellOwStaR has left fans dreaming of the possible chemistry between two of the West's all-time best players at their position.
"Doublelift is a player that I have always wanted to play with," YellOwStaR pointed out. "We used to compete against each other in many tournaments in the past. Being able to keep up at this level throughout the years shows that he is a hard-working, talented and smart person. I hope that we will be able to perform according to our expectations. We didn't have as much practice as we would have wanted to but so far, I'm very positive about our future. We will make sure to improve a lot with our continuous efforts."
Doublelift also believes the future is bright for TSM's new star-studded bottom lane duo -- but they might get off to a rocky start.
"I am no stranger to scrutiny and harsh criticism when unable to deliver results, and I'm sure Bora and I will have some pathetic games during our debut. Ultimately, the greatest players are able to press on. Bora and I will become the best bottom lane the West has ever seen, but not in the 10 days we have had to practice before LCS," Doublelift said.
The puzzle pieces are finally in place, and TSM is ready to start the 2016 campaign with a reloaded roster built around Bjergsen. So, after all the promotional videos, drama and everything else that's occurred this offseason, what does TSM's ace and sole survivor from last year's squad have to say about his new comrades?
"We're gonna strive to have everyone in the team do their part, which means there shouldn't be a single carry," Bjergsen said. "Looking at the teams that did well at worlds last year, they were versatile and everyone would do their part and could carry when necessary. That's what we're gonna do our best to accomplish. It does feel nice having teammates with the same goal and mindset as myself -- makes improving much faster."
TSM's quest to retake the North American championship with its new lineup begins Saturday, when it faces off against Doublelift's former team, CLG, in a rematch of last season's grand final in the NA LCS season opener.