Player Spotlight: Bjergsen – Made in Europe, Crowned in North America
Players don’t typically have long careers in League of Legends. Nobody can agree on the sole factor, if there is one. As players age, they face burnout, career instability, slower reaction time, and become known commodities, rather than untapped potential. To even make it to the top of your region for a single moment is an incredible achievement. To stay there is a constant uphill battle.
So, when you see a player make it to the highest level of competition, dominate his peers at that level, and continue to do both of those things for years, that player is special.
Over his eight years as a professional, mid laner Søren “Bjergsen” Bjerg proved he is special. Starting from his time with the Copenhagen Wolves in Europe, Bjergsen had what it took to be great, eventually blossoming into the greatest North American mid laner of all-time with TSM.
MADE IN EUROPE
Like most great North American mid laners, Bjergsen was not actually from North America. The Danish mid laner began his career in Europe, first playing in small tournaments before making his professional debut in the European LCS.
That debut came with the Copenhagen Wolves in 2013 Spring. Playing alongside Dennis “Svenskeren” Johnsen and Martin “Deficio” Lynge, Bjergsen quickly made an impact in the league. Despite being a rookie, Bjergsen took on the role of main carry on the team and helped guide CW to a playoff spot in their first split. Bjergsen got his first taste of postseason action in a 2-1 loss to Evil Geniuses in the first round of the Spring playoffs.
Despite making the playoffs, CW still had to fight for their spot in the EU LCS. The promotion system still existed back then, forcing the bottom four teams in the league to re-qualify. CW faced off against a challenger team, beating them 3-1 to retain their spot. However, Bjergsen’s team would compete under a new name for his second split.
After fighting off Samurai in Jeans, the Copenhagen Wolves roster joined the organization that SAMU modeled their name after: Ninjas in Pyjamas. With more expectations from the new ownership came more roster volatility. After using the same starting lineup for the entire Spring Split, NiP rotated in four new players throughout the Summer Split. Only Bjergsen and Deficio played every game for NiP.
Ninjas in Pyjamas finished 15-13 in the Summer, once again good for fifth place in the EU LCS. Like in the Spring, Bjergsen and NiP couldn’t get it done in the playoffs. NiP lost to Gambit Gaming 2-0 in the quarterfinals, followed by a 2-1 loss to Team ALTERNATE in the fifth place match.
Though Bjergsen couldn’t lead his team to deep playoff runs, his rookie year was still considered a massive success. Now an up-and-coming star, Bjergsen had options entering free agency. He could stay and continue to develop in Europe, or he could move abroad and try to conquer a new region in North America.
CROWNED IN NORTH AMERICA
It would take a special opportunity to get Bjergsen to move at such a young age, but the perfect storm was brewing. TSM, after a quarterfinals appearance at Worlds Season 2 and a 2013 Spring Split championship, had fallen flat to end the year. Their 14-14 Summer Split ended in a sweep at the hands of Cloud9, foreshadowing a rough Worlds performance. With TSM’s stated goal to be successful on the international stage, TSM’s 2-6 exit in the group stage was unacceptable. Changes would have to be made.
In a stunning move at the time TSM owner and mid laner Andy “Reginald” Dinh announced that he would be stepping down from the starting lineup. The shocker wasn’t spur-of-the-moment, though, as Reginald had already found his replacement: Bjergsen. Thus created one of the greatest retirement/intro videos the League of Legends community has ever seen.
TSM’s new mid laner made an immediate impact. Coming off a 14-14 season, TSM went 22-6 in the 2014 Spring regular season, finishing second to Cloud9. TSM would again lose to C9 in the Spring playoffs, but Bjergsen’s addition had closed the gap. While Reginald was losing his ability to match Hai “Hai” Du Lam, Bjergsen brought new life to TSM.
TSM continued the roster overhaul from 2014 Spring to Summer, bringing on Maurice “Amazing” Stückenschneider for Brian “TheOddOne” Wyllie and Ham “Lustboy” Jang-sik for Alex “Xpecial” Chu. While the Summer regular season (16-12) was a struggle, the new roster clicked in the playoffs. Once again, TSM would have to face Cloud9 in the playoff finals.
C9 got off to a 1-0 start, reminiscent of their previous two sweeps of TSM in the finals. This time, though, Bjergsen would not let his team be denied. He carried his team in game two, going 7/3/9 on Syndra while holding Hai’s Yasuo to a 1/9/7 score. Hai did respond by carrying game three (6/0/1 on Zed), but it wasn’t enough. Bjergsen’s Xerath and Orianna took Hai out of the match in games four and five, securing Bjergsen his first LCS title.
In Cloud9’s two wins, Hai finished 12/2/8. In their three losses, Hai finished 4/19/14. Putting an end to Hai’s mid lane supremacy was the exact reason Bjergsen was brought to the LCS.
Bjergsen and TSM built on that momentum to have what was, at least in retrospect, an excellent run at the 2014 World Championship. TSM went 4-2 in Group B, finishing second behind Star Horn Royal Club. TSM then lost to Samsung White in the quarterfinals, but took a game off them in the process. SSW would go on to become one of the most dominant champions in Worlds history, changing the way the game was played in regards to vision control. TSM were the only team in the tournament to take a game off both Samsung White and runner-up SHRC.
TSM continued their international success by becoming the first North American team to win a tournament featuring Korean and Chinese teams. TSM beat Team WE 3-0 in the finals of the IEM Season 9 World Championship, sweeping the team that upset the favored GE Tigers in the semifinals. Bjergsen finished a combined 25/3/24 across the three wins.
TSM shuffled players in and out of their lineup for the next few years, but the titles kept coming. 2015 Spring’s championship came with Lucas “Santorin” Tao Kilmer Larsen in place of Amazing. 2016 brought a complete overhaul, as Kevin “Hauntzer” Yarnell, Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng, Vincent “Biofrost” Wang, and old Copenhagen Wolves friend Svenskeren joined Bjergsen to win the 2016 Summer title. Even when Doublelift took the 2017 Spring Split off, Bjergsen and TSM won with WildTurtle back on the team. Doublelift returned in the Summer, culminating in TSM’s fifth LCS championship with Bjergsen.
During that three year stretch that produced five championships for TSM, Bjergsen was undoubtedly and indisputably the best mid laner in the LCS. It didn’t matter who he faced in the league — Bjergsen had the advantage. He raised the bar in mid lane so high that teams were forced to use an import slot on mid lane just to keep their team competitive. Meanwhile, Bjergsen was one of the first imports to North America, so he became an NA resident before stricter rules were put in place. The advantage that TSM had with him during this time cannot be understated.
ONE LAST DANCE
The 2017 team was supposed to be the best version of TSM ever produced, but TSM once again fell short of expectations at Worlds. Despite entering as a heavy favorite, TSM went only 3-3 in group play, eventually falling to Misfits Gaming in a tiebreaker to exit before the knockout round. That led TSM to break up the dream team heading into 2018. Michael “MikeYeung” Yeung replaced Svenskeren, while the duo Jesper “Zven” Svenningsen and Alfonso “Mithy” Aguirre Rodríguez replaced Doublelift and Biofrost.
Whether the mistake was to break up the team or just the players TSM signed to replace them, the dropoff was immediate. TSM struggled to an 11-7 record in the 2018 Spring regular season, losing to Clutch Gaming 3-1 in the first round of the playoffs. From that point forward, Bjergsen would be surrounded by a revolving door of teammates.
First came jungler Jonathan “Grig” Armao. In 2019, Sergen “Broken Blade” Çelik, Matthew “Akaadian” Higginbotham, and Andy “Smoothie” Ta joined. Mingyi “Spica” Lu was called up for the 2019 Summer playoffs. Joshua “Dardoch” Hartnett and Kasper “Kobbe” Kobberup joined in 2020 Spring. Both lasted only one split on TSM. The only constant for TSM was losing.
The two-and-a-half year title drought for TSM cast doubt on Bjergsen’s previous accomplishments. Was he really so good if he couldn’t win with any of the supposed all-star lineups TSM were constantly assembling? As each jungler became a passive shell of their former aggression, was Bjergsen too demanding? Instead of elevating his teammates, did Bjergsen cause them to play worse when they joined TSM?
These criticisms were growing in numbers and strength as the losses mounted, but Bjergsen had one final statement left in him. With Doublelift back in the fold and reunited with his old running mate Biofrost, TSM finally found the winning formula once again.
Not only that, but Bjergsen proved he was still the best in NA in mid. After finishing as TSM’s only First Team All-Pro, Bjergsen played against his main challenger in Nicolaj “Jensen” Jensen of Team Liquid in the playoff semifinals. Jensen had a pair of excellent games on Twisted Fate, but you need a deeper champion pool than that to deal with Bjergsen.
In an effort to keep Zilean away from Bjergsen in game four of the series, Jensen took Zilean away. The pick did not work in his hands, leading TSM to pull even in the series. Bjergsen showed him how it was done in game five of the series, landing the perfect double bombs and revives in a deathless 3/0/8 effort.
TSM would go on to defeat FlyQuest in the finals, winning another close five game series. Bjergsen was named Finals MVP, going 21/3/39 in the three games. He played those games against Tristan “PowerOfEvil” Schrage, winner of Third Team All-Pro.
ABDICATING THE THRONE
Like his boss and predecessor, Bjergsen had no issue going out on top as a competitor. Bjergsen similarly shocked TSM fans seven years later by announcing that he would be stepping down as a mid laner to become TSM’s head coach for 2021. While many expected a shakeup in the TSM coaching staff, few predicted that it would involve TSM’s most important player filling the role himself.
Though he was obviously very invested in the success of TSM as a player throughout his tenure, Bjergsen was even further incentivized to see their success when he became the first LCS player to gain an ownership stake in his team. Only he and Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok held that power in 2020.
Now as a head coach, Bjergsen has a tough task ahead of him. His team collapsed at 2020 Worlds, going 0-6 and is looking at another reboot after their 2020 title. Chief among the holes to fill will be Bjergsen’s former role. There are few players of his caliber available, and none of them are North American residents. Bjergsen’s retirement as a player will once again remind us of just how valuable he was to TSM purely as a building piece.
Though his legacy as a coach is still to be determined, Bjergsen will always be remembered first and foremost for his dominance as a player. His signature pick throughout his career was Syndra, but Bjergsen could play anything the team needed. Mages, assassins, enchanters, tanks, ADCs, and bruisers were all in his arsenal. No meta could slow Bjergsen down. He was a great Zed player when needed at the beginning of his career, and he was great on Twisted Fate to end his career. Bjergsen showed the power of playing a pocket pick to perfection, as his Zilean drew bans even when no other team could or would play the champion.
Bjergsen had an incredible run of LCS success, so his domestic legacy will never be questioned. Bjergsen actually elevated his play in the playoffs, sporting a higher career KDA (5.7 in the playoffs to 5.3 in the regular season) when it mattered most.
Still, TSM’s disappointing record in international events will be part of his story. In an albeit small sample size, Bjergsen only made it out of the group stage once in five Worlds appearances. That was his first in 2014, and TSM immediately lost in the quarterfinals. North America is in no way known for their international success, but we saw a team like Cloud9 make it out of groups three consecutive years. Outside of the IEM win, Bjergsen’s legacy lacks international success.
That’s a shame for a player who set the bar for mid lane play in North America. Perhaps he had reached his peak as a player and had taken a team as far as he could as a mid laner. As a coach, Bjergsen still has a chance to make an impact to push North America to greater international success
His time as a player may be done, but we will always remember the reign of the Bjerger King — made in Europe, crowned in North America.