Return of the King: TSM's maturation to being the top team in NA

Members of Team SoloMid huddle up before taking the stage. Provided by Riot Games

A short month ago, Team SoloMid were a team missing its final piece. Legendary European support Bora "YellOwStaR" Kim failed to stick with the team after a single volatile split, and the back-to-back runners-up to the North American League Championship Series title were searching for a support to push the team over the hump from silver medalists to being the kings of North America.

During the team's offseason bootcamp in South Korea, the selection seemingly came down to two standout prospects. The first, Lee "IgNar" Dong-geun, would be everything you wanted out of a mechanically gifted player -- young, highly touted coming out of Incredible Miracle and KT Rolster, and once considered the next coming of All-Star South Korean support Hong "MadLife" Min-gi, IgNar seemed like the easy choice on paper. For TSM to have a chance of overcoming rival Counter Logic Gaming or even have a prayer against the likes of the SK Telecom T1 dynasty with Lee "Faker" Sang-hyeok, it needed the best starting five of all time, right? If IgNar worked out, he could be a younger Ham "Lustboy" Jang-sik, possibly with better upside.

Behind the murmurs of TSM IgNar, there was Vincent "Biofrost" Wang, an amateur player brought along by SoloMid to try out in South Korea while they bootcamped. Biofrost was an interesting prospect and said to have gelled well with star AD carry Yiliang "Doublelift" Peng, but his history reads like that of someone who was destined to be eternally stuck in the horrors of the North American minor league circuit: Team Frostbite, Final Five, Vortex, Dream Team. All teams that have never been in the NA LCS, and Biofrost had failed to make the jump in over a year of playing in the Challenger circuit.

I would have chosen IgNar.

TSM chose Biofrost, and after two weeks of matchplay, it looks like that choice might have been the best decision the club has made. Or at least its best decision since signing a lanky Dane from EU LCS' Ninjas in Pyjamas named Søren "Bjergsen" Bjerg to take over for founder and then-mid lane starter Andy "Reginald" Dinh. The former three-time champions of the league are undefeated in match score at 4-0, and the team has only dropped one game the entire split, that being to last season's regular-season champions, Immortals.

The best word to describe Biofrost's first nine game games as a rookie would be businesslike. He isn't necessarily the most expressive player, or even the flashiest when it comes to his in-game plays, but the way he goes about the game is like a veteran of five or six years. On a team with legitimate superstars in the professional world, Biofrost plays like he would on a team like Frostbite or Vortex. He hasn't looked intimidated in the slightest, and his play alongside Doublelift in-lane has put TSM atop of the board when it comes to teams in laning prowess.

Biofrost's highlight play from the first two weeks was also his most recent. In the only close series TSM has played this split, against Immortals, he was calm as could be in the waning minutes of the game. Eugene "Pobelter" Park was the strongest player on the map on his Viktor and had just rolled over TSM to win a Baron for his team. The Immortals were pressing to end SoloMid's winning streak and take possession of first in the league. A catch in the enemy jungle not too long after led to a moment where TSM and Biofrost had a chance to take Viktor off the map and win the game. Like it was another normal game with his friends on a Friday night in Canada, Biofrost plopped around on Bard before throwing a game-changing ultimate that caught three players, including the all-important Viktor. Bjergsen and the rest of the team were able to lock down the Viktor, delete him from the map, and what was going to be TSM's first loss of the season turned into Biofrost's marquee pro-gaming highlight up to this short point in his career.

"When you take off your headset and the TSM chants come ringing through, those 10 seconds after you win feel extraordinary," Biofrost tweeted following the win over Immortals. On the most prestigious club in North America with fanatical fans that, for the good and for the bad, take note of every little play the starters make, the Canadian rookie hasn't flinched. When he's made a mistake, it hasn't affected him or his team's overall play, and maybe most importantly, he hasn't tried to do too much. Some rookies, or even some veterans, will make a mistake or get a small lead and then try to overcompensate.

"Oh man, I made a mistake, I need to do a flash stun to get back into this," some think.

"Sweet, we got a double kill. Let's waste all our summoner spells to try and blow up the lead even more," others have run through their minds.

Doublelift and Biofrost have been in sync and an ironwall in their first four matches together. The third game against Immortals could have gotten out of hand and led to a match loss, yet Doublelift pulled out a triple kill alongside the Rift Herald pit to get his team back in the game. From Dennis "Svenskeren" Johnsen to Doublelift in the bottom lane, the team is finally starting to gain the comfort level needed to become a top team in today's pro scene. Svenskeren is trusting Bjergsen, Doublelift is trusting Svenskeren, and Bjergsen is trusting Doublelift, and it's resulted in a team that almost fell out of the playoffs last season now topping the tables with an ample amount of momentum behind them.

IgNar, yes, might be the better player. The talented South Korean prospect moved over to Misfits in the European Challenger series, and there is a good chance he'll see time in one of the main leagues next year, either by promotion or a major league team signing him. The problem with IgNar is that, besides having communication issues, he's garnered a bit of a reputation for being hard to work with. He was primed to be KT's new starting support at the start of the 2016 season, however, he was quickly replaced by veteran Ha "Hachani" Seung-chan and never saw much playing time.

TSM has come to the realization many are coming to: League of Legends is about teamwork, communication, and just plain trust more than ever. We can sit here and put together the greatest roster on paper to play in the NA LCS, but it isn't going to mean much if they don't mesh as a collective unit. We've left the days where an almighty one-on-one expert can snowball the game off his back continuously and win matches through sheer individual brilliance. To become a championship team, one worthy to contend at Worlds, you need to have all five players on the same page and functioning as a true team, not just in definition only.

A few people will look at SK Telecom T1's success in South Korea and attribute all the success to Faker's genius. And yes, while it's true Faker is the greatest in the game's history and the best player on the planet, not even he could carry a team by his lonesome if his teammates around him didn't trust in him. There is a better chance currently of seeing Faker support his teammates in battle than the other way around. The 2013 version of Faker zipping around the map and solo killing everyone is still there, yet that's not what he needs to do to win. Instead, he'll play Karma, Lulu, or anything the team requires him to do to win, and that's why the slugging SKT T1 at the start of the year has picked up steam gradually as the year has gone along. By the midpoint in the year, T1 has found the right mixture to play with, and the new elements on the team in the top lane and jungle have assimilated to the group.

Biofrost has been great, but it's not only because of him. It's because of Doublelift. It's because of Parth "Parthenaan" Naidu, his head coach. It's because of his other teammates, the team's analysts, and Reginald as well in the owner role. To become a great team in this day and age, it all comes from the top down and trickles into the team playing on the field.

Kevin "Hauntzer" Yarnell is playing like the best top laner in the west currently, and that didn't just happen overnight. He had a natural progression. A promising youngster on the Gravity, which made the postseason and faltered in the first round. In his second year, now signed on TSM, he was more well-rounded, but still made mistakes from time to time and was experiencing the same issues as the rest of the team when it came to relying on each other. When the finals against CLG came in Las Vegas, he was progressing to the stage where he is today -- confident, trusting in his teammates, knowing the tendencies of his jungler, and having the right feel for teleports, flanks, and when to simply go in on the offensive in-lane.

TSM isn't unstoppable. The team isn't perfect. There will be times this season where things aren't all rainbows and kudos, and that's when we'll learn how far this team can really go come the August domestic finals and possible World Championships.

That's okay, though. No team is perfect. No team can win forever. What you can do is build a team you know can persevere in the face of adversity. A group of players that -- when the chips are down and their backs are firmly pressed against the wall -- can turn to each other, look each other in the eyes, and understand what to do without saying a single word.

A team, now more than ever, always trumps an individual. And this iteration of Team SoloMid could be one of those teams.