Throughout the NA LCS' history, the league's most popular team has been Team SoloMid. With the colorful vlogs, catchphrases and relaxed, engaging personalities, TSM became the team of the people. To fans, the team was like the Los Angeles Lakers or Barcelona FC -- except they actually felt personally connected to the team.
In the days when professional League of Legends was less suit-and-ties with squads competing in a worldwide circuit of tournaments instead of dedicated domestic leagues, TSM was an organization that casual and diehard fans of the game alike could enjoy watching.
Fast forward to the present, and the old TSM is no more. Although the team still has its own reality series on YouTube, it isn't the same as the early days. The team members that the fans attached themselves to in the first few seasons have all retired or moved on to a new team at this point. TSM is a team of all-stars nowadays, with a starting five that's only driven by victory and on everything that they can do lead that can lead them to victory. Instead of goofing around and yelling "Baylife!", the current iteration of Team SoloMid is all business.
TSM wants to win North America. TSM wants to win the Mid-Season Invitational. TSM wants to win Worlds. The joking around and having fun will still come, but only when hardware is earned and put up for display in the trophy case.
The team that most closely resembles the old TSM closest is, coincidentally, also the home of its former starting AD carry. Immortals -- a rookie organization that made its way into the NA LCS after buying Team 8's spot in the offseason -- entered the competition, got off to a hot start and never looked back. Unlike the current TSM, the members are lighthearted in interviews and like to crack jokes. Immortals' training regimen is free-flowing, and its head coach and former TSM analyst, Dylan Falcao, is the definition of a players' coach. Rather than forcing things on the players, he gives the veteran team a bit of freedom while pointing out weaknesses as they go along.
At 17-1, Immortals is right where SoloMid wants to be, rather than the 9-9 record it ended up with in the Spring Split. Immortals' Jason "WildTurtle" Tran, TSM's longest-standing AD carry in its history, can, like the rest of his team, get the last laugh over his former team and be the first squad ever to eliminate SoloMid before the NA LCS Grand Finals if it succeds on Sunday.
Top Lane: Heo "Huni" Seung-hoon (IMT) vs. Kevin "Hauntzer" Yarnell (TSM)
This appears to be a mismatch on paper, as Huni is considered by many to be in the upper echelon of top laners in the world. Hauntzer is solid in his play, but doesn't play the same role as Huni does on Immortals with SoloMid. Arguably only ahead of the support role when it comes to damage priority, TSM's top laner is routinely seen as its tank and utility jackknife it can use in various compositions.
Huni doesn't really know what a 'utility' or 'tank' is. Sure, he'll play in the frontline like tank, but he's not there to peel for the people behind him or provide a meat shield -- Huni wants to make mincemeat out of the enemy team. The two players' regular seasons in gold percentage aren't too far apart (Huni at 22 percent and Hauntzer at 21.1 percent), yet their DPM (damage per minute) isn't anywhere near each other. Huni outputs 610 DPM, and Hauntzer, the often designated utility player, only 373. If this was a one-on-one fight to the death, the odds would be heavily stacked against TSM's top.
The potential good news for Hauntzer is the fact we're currently in a top lane tank meta, with Maokai, Poppy, Ekko and so on. This could negate Huni's lead in the top lane and make it more of an even playing field, with the outcome of the positional matchup coming down to which player can perform better around the map and find the right teleports to engage.
Although I'm still giving the advantage to Immortals' mechanical monster, Hauntzer is a strong enough player where, in a tank meta, he could frustrate Huni enough that he might make overanxious plays and tip the result into his favor.
Jungle: Kim "Reignover" Yeu-jin (IMT) vs. Dennis "Svenskeren" Johnsen (TSM)
Svenskeren was brilliant last weekend in his team's decisive victory over longtime rivals Cloud9. The Svenskeren TSM thought it was buying from SK Gaming this offseason finally showed up when the organization needed him at his best. He frustrated his jungle opponent, Lee "Rush" Yoon-jae, into making needless mistakes and playing too greedily. By the time the series was over, Svenskeren's adaptation to playing a more selfless style was the key to his win over the former NA LCS MVP in C9's jungle.
This series, however, will be one of the hardest of his life. Reignover is South Korean like Rush, and he's now an NA LCS MVP as well -- but that's where the comparisons end. C9's jungler strength is washing over the map with his presence and hard carrying games from the early stages. Reignover is a jack of all trades; he can carry sometimes, he can play supportive, he can shot call, he can skirmish and he can teamfight. A semifinalist alongside Huni on last year's Fnatic starting five, Reignover is the type of player that coaches and players love to have.
Svenskeren is finally fitting in with TSM and showing the immense talent he proved countless times in Europe. That's great, but Reignover has proven countless times this season he can be the best player on Summoner's Rift on a dominating, one-loss team.
Mid Lane: Eugene "Pobelter" Park (IMT) vs. Søren "Bjergsen" Bjerg (TSM)
Immortals' starting mid laner is an endangered species in the NA LCS. Dignitas' elimination in the Promotional Tournament has guaranteed, unless a signing happens in the offseason, that Pobelter will be the only starting North American-born mid laner in the LCS next split. As the numbers have dwindled over the years with European and Korean imports, we've reached a stage where Danish starting mids (3) have a bigger presence than North Americans in the mid lane.
Welcome to the North American LCS, I guess.
Pobelter, funnily enough, could become Captain America once again for the hometown fans in Las Vegas if Immortals can get past TSM in the semifinals -- and then he could take home the championship in the NA LCS Grand Finals. It would make him a back-to-back champion, and he would keep the NA mid laner dream alive for at least one more season, at least.
North America's "Last Mid Laner" will meet one mid lane imports in their inaugural season in Bjergsen. Pobelter, a one-time champion, takes on the Danish mid who has won the grand prize twice in his career, along with two MVP awards in the regular season. It's a clash of differing nationalities and styles; Bjergsen as the ace carry on TSM for the last two plus years, and Pobelter playing a reserved style behind his devil-may-care teammates Huni and WildTurtle.
Pobelter knows how to win big matches. He survived countless relegation battles in the Promotional Tournament before ultimately getting knocked out, and he came up in the clutch again last split when CLG ran over TSM in the finals. Back then, it was Pobelter that came out the victor in the match-up.
Sunday, Bjergsen wants a bit of payback.
Advantage: Team SoloMid
Bottom Lane: Jason "WildTurtle" Tran & Adrian "Adrian" Ma (IMT) vs. Yiliang "Doublelift" Peng and Bora "YellOwStaR" Kim (TSM)
Would there be anything sweeter than eliminating the team you left the spit before? WildTurtle has a chance to do just that in these semifinals, and he and his partner Adrian should be favored heading into the series.
If you asked this question six months ago, you'd get laughed at if you thought a hypothetical bottom lane of WildTurtle and Adrian could stand up to two of the best bottom lane players in the western world's history. WildTurtle got benched by TSM. Adrian got benched by Team Impulse. Doublelift and YellOwStaR won the North American and European LCS titles, respectively, in the summer season.
Two players considered misfits at one time or another against a star-studded bottom lane that was seemingly crafted by a crazed TSM fan in his fanfiction.
Nevertheless, those 'rejects' have been on top of their games this split, and WildTurtle has emerged from his hollow shell on TSM last summer to become one of the better AD's in the NA LCS, like the old days. For the all-star fanfiction bottom lane, they've been awkward alongside one another; you can see the talent is obviously there, but the connection hasn't truly come together.
Last weekend was a good step up for the TSM bottom lane with the win over C9, and the semifinals will be a chance to make another giant leap in development. If the two players continue playing well with each other, it's only a matter of time before the bottom lane starts to click, helping TSM reach its lofty expectations.
A few months from now, my prediction would probably be different. You can see TSM gaining steam since its trip to Poland for the IEM World Championships, where it finished in the top four, and each team member has started to learn their roles on the team. Svenskeren is playing less greedy, the bottom lane is getting better as the weeks go along, and they have that guy named Bjergsen in the mid lane, who's still the best player in the NA LCS.
But this weekend's semifinal is in April, and not August. Immortals was the first team to come together and synergize in the NA LCS Spring Split, and we've seen the likes of Team Liquid and Counter Logic creep up behind them as the season went along. Immortals' games have been closer, and we don't see the same quickfire dominance Immortals demonstrated in the first half of the season.
TSM is on the right path to catch the speeding Immortals.
This Sunday, though? TSM might need just a little bit more time.