Doublelift & His Return to TSM in 2020
Regardless of what you think of the most successful North American player of all time, it’s hard not to be intrigued by this unexpected turn of events. First of all, we’ve been here. TSM and Doublelift are by no means an unknown pairing, even though it certainly did come out of left field now that we’re halfway into 2020.
The last time Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng competed under the TSM banner, North America saw the rise of one of its most potent challengers. That Team SoloMid is the one each subsequent iteration tried to aspire towards. It was an ideal that no one has reached since. Champions came and went, but none of them had the sheer bravado and confidence of 2016/2017’s TSM. Now sure, they weren’t perfect, but for a team that was three-fifths North American, with one grandfathered European and another who had just moved across the Atlantic after a two-year stint with LEC’s SK Gaming, they were about as big of a superteam as North America had up to that point.
Many swore on that line-up, saying they were destined to leave a mark on the international stage and, sure enough, all signs were pointing towards such a reality. But for one reason or another, they failed to deliver. That one Viktor nuke moment sort of encapsulated their 2016, with 2017 ending on a similar, sour note after failing to get out of groups for the nth time in a row.
The years that followed were arduous and devoid of any success. We saw something unexpected: Team SoloMid struggling. For an organization that dominated beyond measure year after year, this was a twist of seismic proportions. A debacle. No one was used to such a sight — TSM included. Everyone was taken aback as for the first time in many years, the boys in black and white weren’t a part of the LCS finals nor were they able to lock down a spot at the World Championship. It was the dawn of a brand-new era and, as with any new beginning, no one knew quite what to think or feel.
Two and a half years have passed since, and it feels as though we’re still somehow unsure of what’s going on. The image of Team SoloMid getting showered in confetti is still etched in everyone’s conscience and it’s hard to shake off, even after all these years. It is as though everyone’s just waiting for TSM to bounce back, like a turnaround is right around the corner, waiting to happen.
Imagine the surprise (and delight) of many when they announced that Doublelift — the most decorated and successful North American player of all time — wound up under the Team SoloMid banner for the second time. It’s like reuniting with a high school crush a decade or two afterward. The fact that an egregious conflict of interest had to happen for this reunion to transpire “doesn’t matter”; the fact that their previous AD carry had to get double-crossed “doesn’t matter.” Team SoloMid was never the kind of organization that would do things “by the book.” They’ve been irrelevant for two and a half years, so no one should be overly surprised to see them go for such desperate measures.
Still, it’s hard not to be excited to see them reunite with the best marksman North America ever fostered. If we’re going to watch shady deals go down, at least give us something in return — like fulfilling a multi-year-long fantasy! Doublelift back on TSM in 2020 is just one of the many “what ifs” circulating in the air, and the fact that we’re going to see it happen is, at the very least, extremely exciting.
This year’s iteration of TSM is, without a doubt, immensely talented and brimming with potential. Still, they failed to deliver when it mattered the most. Only this time no one was too surprised as we’ve become accustomed to seeing them fumble and fail in those oh-so-important Best of 5s.
Will TSM Doublelift make a difference in 2020 much like he did in 2016 and 2017? He might as well, although the LCS landscape is quite different than it was back then. The region itself is a lot more competitive, with better imports and better native talent — most of which are signed by Cloud9, but the point stands. Even if TSM rekindles that incredible spark and reaches their old form, they might be surprised to find out that it’s not enough. That’s why this whole roster swap is so darn exciting, it’s revolving around a huge narrative and everyone’s dying to find out what’ll happen.
Say what you want about Team SoloMid’s play and relevance in competitive League, but you can’t deny their penchant for creating exciting storylines and ability to remain in the public eye, if only for the wrong reasons.
Doublelift vs. Kobbe
The most important question at this point is whether or not Doublelift will be an improvement over the Splyce alumni Kasper “Kobbe” Kobberup? While it’s still too early to predict anything with certainty, it’s fair to say he’s a much better stylistic match with TSM as a whole, even if we ignore the fact that the two parties have history together. Kobbe was always known as someone who’s “late game insurance.” His laning was solid and he would rarely make mistakes, but his true talent shined brightest once those hectic, five on five teamfights broke out in the mid and later stages of the game. That’s when Kobbe would step up the most and get the job done through incredible positioning and pristine target selection.
Frankly speaking, we didn’t see his defining quality that much throughout the most recent 2020 LCS Spring Split, but that’s on TSM as a whole. Kobbe couldn’t do what he does best in a team that often had a bad read on the meta and struggled to allocate their resources logically. Still, even at his best, one could argue that Kobbe isn’t what TSM needs. What they lack is a strong, commanding voice in the bottom lane, someone who can share shotcalling duties with their legendary Danish mid laner; someone who will be able to take the reins and push the team over the finish line when the need arises. Kobbe simply isn’t that kind of player, and that’s okay.
Doublelift, on the other hand, fits the bill perfectly. It’s no coincidence, therefore, that the two had such an incredibly successful couple of years “back in the day.”
The only question now is: can they rebuild and recreate that kind of “magic?” Two and a half years have passed, and while that isn’t a particularly long time overall, it’s still an eternity in esports terms. A lot has changed since then, and many of the faces we watched compete are no longer entertaining us weekly.
2017 was still the year when the LCK reigned supreme, the year when non-stop skirmishing wasn’t the de facto way of playing the game. That wasn’t too long ago and yet it feels like it all happened in a distant life, almost as if it’s fiction.
Doublelift is a spectacular laner and the same can be said for his team fighting. Once those insane skirmishes break out, you can count on him doing the right thing, and that’s invaluable. He can create leads on his own and with an old (and equally gifted) lane partner by his side in Vincent “Biofrost” Wang, we can expect to see the best Doublelift in years. Furthermore, he’s a strong voice in-game and will surely give the boys in black and white a more coherent mid and late game.
He publicly criticized Liquid’s more democratic approach to shotcalling and it’s no secret that he’ll have a more commanding presence under the TSM banner. He’s decisive in all stages of the game and by giving him control over what he does and when, he should be able to shine as bright as he did back during his hayday. The team as a whole, however, will have to adapt, and they’ll have to do it quickly. Playing through top lane won’t cut it any longer, and Sergen “BrokenBlade” Çelik will have to adapt and play weak side more often (and more successfully).
Before we get carried away, we need to remember that this incarnation of TSM — while talented and brimming with potential — is its own thing. It might look like the one from 2016/17 but that’s only on the surface level. The competitive LCS landscape is much different and the same goes for these players and their careers as well.
We — the fans, media, analysts, and everyone in between — need to adjust our expectations. They won’t start the Summer Split off taking heads and blowing the opposition out of the water. Instead, they’ll gradually ramp up, develop synergy from the ground up and find an identity over time. This means they’ll stumble and fall along the way. TSM fans often have seismic expectations and there’s a good reason why that’s the case. Still, this line-up (perhaps above all else) needs understanding and room to grow and maneuver in any way they see fit. They’ll have to re-learn a lot of the stuff they already know; with a brand-new jungler by their side (who’s vastly inexperienced compared to his predecessors), there’ll be a lot of trial and error which is perfectly natural.
In theory, there’s a metric ton of potential. Whether or not they’ll be able to compete with Cloud9 on even footing remains to be seen. At their best, this version of TSM should be more than capable of securing a spot at the 2020 World Championship in China. That’s the best-case scenario, if things don’t go awry (like they did over the last two and a half years).
There are many obstacles in their way, but one could argue that with a seasoned veteran like Doublelift by their side in 2020, TSM shouldn’t have too much trouble finding their way.