In three consecutive World Championship games so far, Team SoloMid's jungler Dennis "Svenskeren" Johnsen has been one of the first two deaths in the game.
"Just like yesterday, it's Svenskeren that ends up going down," Caster Andrew "Vedius" Day said when Team WE's bottom lane and jungle grouped to trap Svenskeren in river. "He sticks around a little too long, he doesn't pay enough respect, and Team WE are quick to punish."
Svenskeren's daring and reckless invades, his willingness to contest vision in river early, have all been well-documented throughout his career. On SK Gaming in 2015 Spring, Svenskeren famously took to aggressive champions like Nidalee to invade blind (an early iteration of the living ward) or attempt ganks without thought to the enemy jungler's location.
His daring combined with mechanical prowess made him look attractive enough as a player for Team SoloMid and H2K-Gaming to start a bidding war between the 2015 and 2016 seasons. As the jungle role evolved, however, some of Svenskeren's more risky invade behavior has come into question, and he has been referred to as the weakest player on Team SoloMid -- but this year's World Championship games have shed more light on Svenskeren's role within the context of Team SoloMid.
At Worlds so far, Team SoloMid have used Svenskeren as a front line to bait out Teleports and give more freedom to top laner Kevin "Hauntzer" Yarnell. For red side games, where Team SoloMid has struggled more at international events in an effort to play to top side, this strategy becomes a creative solution in a meta where playing to bottom side usually yields more results. If it goes wrong, Svenskeren will receive the blame, but if it succeeds, he's a sacrifice for the greater good.
In two of its three games, Team SoloMid have chosen a strong top lane matchup. Against Flash Wolves, TSM picked Gnar into Cho'Gath, and against Misfits, it went for Renekton into Shen. Both games were red side games.
"It's not really my job to do the drafts," Svenskeren said after the game against Team WE, TSM's one blue side game, "but I just know for red side you can get the counterpicks, and you get the more advantaged solo lanes because you can ban pick first and you can last pick."
Playing to top side doesn't work as well in the current meta with the priority placed on getting Ardent Censer early on the bottom side of the map, but getting a Teleport advantage and setting up a play on bottom can still have a major implication. Playing to top side, however, could leave bottom lane vulnerable to interference from the enemy jungler, especially if TSM have a weaker bottom lane matchup.
"[Bot lane is] one of the hardest to get snowballing if enemy bot lane is really good," Misfits jungler Nubar "Maxlore" Sarafian said after Misfits beat TSM, "and it's two really good bot lanes against each other. They knew when to ward, they have really good communication with the jungler and mid laner. They'll know everything is up. However, if you do get it snowballing, then the effects are tremendous. One kill? Free win, pretty much, in this meta."
As a result, Svenskeren, even when Team SoloMid has a strong top lane matchup, hasn't made a lot of efforts to gank or interfere with the top lane matchup. He has, for example, avoided doing krugs on red side for two full clears to spend more time round bottom, even against Flash Wolves when the LMS team's Varus and Taric combination had push priority.
TSM have also always played heavily to blue buff. If it has a strong top side matchup, then Svenskeren can invade the top side and deny the enemy blue buff for free on red, but that will leave the bottom side blue buff and dragon open to the enemy team. Considering the value TSM place on blue buff in general, it will look for a way to reinforce a top side advantage while keeping its jungler on the bottom side of the map to defend.
"Invading the blue buff is just a big priority that our coach -- or like [Andy "Reginald" Dinh] has put on us -- that every mid laner is always going to feel like they're under pressure if they don't have a blue and the enemy mid has a blue," Svenskeren explained, "so it's just a big team goal we have where, if we feel like we have any kind of pressure, we should contest it."
In order to give Hauntzer agency without sacrificing Svenskeren's presence in the bottom lane, Team SoloMid will look to get bait out the enemy's Teleport. If TSM succeed, it can either turn the tides with Hauntzer Teleporting to the fight with a stronger champion or give Hauntzer free time on the turret and allow him to retain his Teleport for a later play that can compensate for the enemy team having a stronger bottom lane matchup.
In the first game against Flash Wolves, Svenskeren's contest of Rift Herald triggered Yu "MMD" Lihong's Teleport. Hauntzer had the wave pushed to the bottom lane Tier 1 turret and could have dealt damage to the objective if he had not matched the Teleport. As a result, TSM could have traded a bottom side turret for a Rift Herald (and had enough control with Syndra to then defend the mid lane), but when Svenskeren took more damage than expected and didn't anticipate the point from which MMD would Teleport, he got flanked and killed. Hauntzer didn't match the Teleport until Svenskeren had taken significant damage.
Against Misfits and Team WE, the stakes were even higher. Both teams chose to play Shen against TSM. Against Shen, while teams with an advantage in the bottom lane matchup will often choose to swap to the top side rather than risk Shen using his ultimate to make a play with a strong 2v2 duo lane, Svenskeren and TSM chose to try to bait out the Stand United.
"It just kind of sucks being the sacrificial lamb because [the enemy team have] Shen and Sejuani and Syndra contesting the river," Svenskeren said. "It's super hard because, if we do one mistake, they just kind of one shot us back. We can't fight back because of the Shen ulty. So we just kind of try to bait the fight, blowing out the Shen ulty, but I end up dying for it."
The deadly jungle and Shen combination caught out Svenskeren two games in a row, but the major difference came through in what TSM could get out of it. In the game against Team WE, Hauntzer had a lot of pressure in his lane against Ke "957" Changyu, and when 957 ulted to catch Svenskeren, Hauntzer nearly took the top turret for free.
WE had to react to the pressure by heading to the top side, but Hauntzer evaded them. By heading top, WE also gave up its control bottom, and when Svenskeren respawned, TSM gained a free mountain dragon as a result. Going into the game, TSM had drafted three low pressure lanes, but the play gave them objectives and eventually turned into first tier turrets in top and bottom lane. Because Svenskeren gave up this kill here, TSM gained pressure in two side lanes when it should not have.
"I think it's definitely risky not having any pressure lane because, if you're against a good team, they're going to really make it count that they have deep wards in your jungle," Svenskeren admitted, "and they're going to make the first play almost always. It's pretty surprising that we managed to get dragon."
Because of the dangerous early situation TSM drafted, this play became necessary, and though Svenskeren died, it paid off. Naturally, however, the game against Misfits revealed the more negative side of the Svenskeren coin.
In that game, Svenskeren and Søren "Bjergsen" Bjerg went to contest the jungle entrance vision after Bjergsen pushed out mid. In a presumable attempt to bait out the Shen ultimate, Svenskeren postured aggressively around the blue side red buff jungle entrance, but failed to account for Tristan "PowerOfEvil" Schrage's willingness to give up the wave mid for the kill and the fact that Hauntzer had just recently returned to lane after a back and, therefore, didn't have pressure on the top side to make a reasonable trade.
"A lot of the games I see Svenskeren," Maxlore said after the match, "he's aggressive, but a lot of times, he's over-aggressive. If the enemies just play really scared, then you see Bjergsen and Svenskeren together, then yeah, their plays will work. But because we were really proactive, we managed to punish Svenskeren."
While TSM's approach of using Svenskeren to bait out Shen ultimates is risky, TSM put itself into a position with strong top lane matchup, losing bottom lane, and a desire to defend blue, that gave it a narrow window for action. More careful setups and coordination with top, however, could result in more games going like the WE game: with Svenskeren as a sacrificial lamb that yields results.
But the best news for Svenskeren and TSM, however, is that in the final week of Group Stage, it plays two blue side games. The necessity for heroics may dwindle, and TSM can have an easier time playing to bottom side. If Svenskeren continues to give up early deaths on risky contests, he'll be less sacrificial and more detrimental to the team's continued success.