Boredom isn’t a reason not to give someone an MVP.
Soren “Bjergsen” Bjerg has stood at the center of Team SoloMid since 2014. This means he has also stood at the center of NA LCS. Referred to more as a phenomenon than a player, Bjergsen sometimes has his contributions taken for granted by spectators. How many MVP titles can he really earn?
Putting aside this split’s rightful MVP winner Noh “Arrow” Donghyeon, Bjergsen’s place as Team SoloMid’s MVP has been contested by a teammate both in 2016 Summer and now in 2017 Spring. In 2016 Summer, some lobbied for Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng to receive the NA LCS’ MVP trophy, and this split, Kevin “Hauntzer” Yarnell took the stage in Doublelift’s absence.
A closer look at how TSM play makes this feel disingenuous given how much, especially in a season of enforced standard lanes, TSM rely upon Bjergsen.
2017 didn’t start smooth for NA LCS’ darlings. Their choppy nature came from a change in the starting bottom lane. Jason “WildTurtle” Tran replaced Doublelift, and his inability to exert consistent pressure in the 2v2 made it much more difficult for TSM to play around the ADC and support. TSM slowly transitioned to playing much more around Hauntzer, with Dennis “Svenskeren” Johnsen ganking for his lane and setting up vision to invade the top side of the jungle more often.
The strategic change didn’t come easy. TSM lost their debut best-of-three to Cloud9 and had several slow starts throughout the season, dragging multiple series to three games. Eventually, Hauntzer played far forward in lane and capitalized on setups well to snowball on carry champions and, allegedly, took over much of Doublelift’s shotcalling slack.
Often left out of the Hauntzer narrative, however, is the fact that the transition only became possible through Bjergsen’s ability to control the mid lane. By constantly keeping mid pushed out, Dennis “Svenskeren” Johnsen could pick a side lane to gank. If the enemy mid laner has to answer the wave push, he had to choose between at least one wave of experience and making a play. If Bjergsen had lane control, the enemy mid could not answer Svenskeren’s gank, and at worst, top lane became a 2v2. Bjergsen himself often roamed with Svenskeren after pushing out the wave to make it a 3v2 in TSM’s favor.
One can get a glimpse of just how lane dominant Bjergsen has been in the LCS by looking at leads he has amassed historically by 10 minutes. Since 2015 Spring, Bjergsen has averaged a positive CS differential at 10 minutes in the NA LCS. In the 2017 regular season, Bjergsen averaged a 7.8 CS differential, 172 experience, and 140 gold over his opponents at ten minutes. In TSM’s two playoff series, these numbers persisted at 6.4 CS, 121 experience, and 108 gold over his opposition at 10 minutes.
While these laning advantage statistics don’t portray the full picture of lane control, they correlate with an ability to keep lane pushed out. If a player has a CS lead, he likely is trading well in lane, forcing his opponent back from the wave and allowing him to control it. Of course, there are cases where a player values pushing the wave over last hitting. He will choose to miss out on gold and CS in order to gain a map advantage for his jungler. One must take a closer look at how TSM play to determine how effectively Bjergsen controls mid.
Throughout the 2017 Spring NA LCS playoffs, Svenskeren consistently made a play on the top side of the map at around four minutes. Most frequently, he ganked Hauntzer’s lane.
In instances where Bjergsen had the wave pushed out, Svenskeren wasn’t punished. When Bjergsen didn’t have control, he wasn’t as lucky. Early in the second game of the NA LCS final, when Nicolaj “Jensen” Jensen took control of mid wave, Svenskeren got caught and died trying to counterjungle Krugs because of C9’s man advantage.
When Svenskeren does roam top, Bjergsen sometimes plays to the top side of the lane or will leave lane temporarily and wait on the ramp by the jungle entrance. By doing this, the enemy loses sight of Bjergsen and doesn’t know whether he will roam top with Svenskeren or not. Without full information of the TSM mid’s position, the enemy team are more likely to back off and give Hauntzer free space.
NA LCS data supports the idea that Svenskeren plays around top more than most junglers. Svenskeren has the highest top lane jungle proximity of any jungler in the NA LCS at 11.6%. He often plays around Hauntzer’s lane or ganks for him. But he only has the opportunity to do so because Bjergsen restricts the movement of the enemy mid laner or roams with him.
Playing around Hauntzer doesn’t solely result in getting Hauntzer ahead. In 2016, at international competition, I observed that TSM struggled to play on red side because they couldn’t control the enemy blue buff as well. Specifically, they played around bottom lane. It was much easier for TSM, as a blue side team, to push out both mid and bottom lane and invade enemy blue buff when they were on blue side.
This split, the situation has reversed. TSM chose red side when they had the option in playoffs. Svenskeren often ganked for Hauntzer’s lane from red side, then followed up with wards and contested the enemy blue buff when it spawned again seven minutes in.
TSM’s preoccupation with the enemy blue buff can seem surprising, especially when they appear far less concerned with their own blue buff. In Game 1 of the semifinal against FlyQuest, for example, TSM didn’t take their own blue buff on second spawn at all. It stayed up until 13 minutes in, at which point FlyQuest stole it away.
Enemy blue buff obsession simply reveals TSM’s tendency to play specifically to one side of the map. When they did play blue side games in playoffs against Cloud9, TSM seemed far more concerned with bottom river control. Cloud9’s red buff invade went awry in Game 2 because Bjergsen had pushed out the wave before backing, and TSM forced a low health Zachary “Sneaky” Scuderi off of bottom lane. Svenskeren used this to control the bottom side river and invade the enemy blue buff.
TSM’s love of enemy blue buff rarely extends to red buff. As a result, it seems very likely that TSM look to capitalize off two pushing lanes to invade and control the enemy blue buff. This strategy in and of itself is self-fulfilling.
By playing off Bjergsen’s control of mid lane to roam top from red side, TSM can deny enemy blue buff, which then makes it much harder for the enemy mid laner to simply spam spells and push the wave. As a result, TSM can perpetually keep control of mid. It’s when this strategy fails that TSM struggle the most. More and more often this split, TSM have struggled to control the enemy blue buff, barely having successful contests in playoffs.
In this manner, more pressure fell to Bjergsen. He didn’t falter. Even in weaker laning matchups like Syndra into Ekko, Bjergsen found opportunities where he could push out the lane, abuse the enemy team handing off blue buff, or simply out trade his opponent. Bjergsen always found ways to push back.
Many of the arguments I’ve seen for Doublelift or Hauntzer as MVP come up as arguments about intangibles. “He took over most of the shotcalling. He has improved a great deal. His role on the team changed drastically.” These arguments skirt or ignore the fundamental impact Bjergsen has on the map for TSM.
Giving the MVP to the same man ever split isn’t boring, it’s awe-inspiring.
One might say, if Bjergsen creates opportunities by keeping mid lane pushed out and ganking to facilitate Hauntzer’s snowball, then I can’t disregard Hauntzer’s ability to capitalize. They’re right, I can’t. But I also can’t judge whether or not other top laners in the NA LCS would be able to capitalize on these advantages just as well. They don’t have the same advantage Hauntzer does.
There’s only one Bjergsen. And no matter who the flavor of the month star might be, they’re still Team SoloMid.
You can follow Kelsey Moser on Twitter @karonmoser.