Since becoming a professional League of Legends player in the summer of 2015, Denmark's Jesper "Zven" Svenningsen has only know what it has felt like to win.
In his first season as a pro under the ID "Niels" on Enrique "xPeke" Cedeño Martínez's Origen, the rookie made the playoffs and got all the way to the European League Championship Series final. After Origen qualified for the World Championship, where green players have often been exposed, especially at the AD carry role, the now 20-year-old played like a long-time veteran and was the catalyst of his team's run to the semifinals.
Zven has never failed to make a domestic final in his career. He's played in a Mid-Season Invitational final. When it comes to flinching under the pressure, no Western player has arguably been better over the last three years.
After moving to North America at the start of 2018 to play for Team SoloMid, which has won three regional championships in a row and also never failed to make a domestic final, the goal was clear. Making another domestic final was expected, like waking up in the morning or seeing the sun succumb to nightfall in the evening. But TSM didn't make the changes to its roster in order to solidify its North American pedigree.
International success, something TSM has lacked other than an Intel Extreme Masters world title in 2015, was the main reason why the North American champion decided to shake things up in the offseason.
Through seven weeks of regular season play with only four games remaining before the playoffs, the sun hasn't come up yet for TSM. At 7-7, the team is on course for its worst regular season in franchise history. Although the team has rebounded from a slow start that saw it lose three of its first four games, the super-powered squad expected to outshine the TSM of old has been more fiction and theory-crafting than actual results.
Going into Week 8, TSM is in sixth place, just two games ahead of Counter Logic Gaming and one game behind Team Liquid and 100 Thieves. The North American powerhouse isn't even assured a postseason spot at this point, let alone dreaming of international success stories.
Zven, though, isn't bothered. As it has been his entire career, Everything around him is just noise. All that matters is what happens at the end of the season, and for him and TSM, that expectation is still a fourth straight domestic championship and a place at MSI back home for Zven in Europe.
"I don't think I've had a terrible performance," Zven said. "I've had a bad game here or there -- against Clutch Gaming where I wasn't doing anything -- but I think our draft wasn't very good in that game. Whenever is bad for us or we're in a bad spot, I make more mistakes, and I've had some bad games here and there, but I don't think my performance has been bad at all. I think I've just had one or two off games, so I really don't mind criticism.
"I don't care what people think of me. I care what I think of me. I care about [the opinions of] people I respect: my teammates, my coach, my mom, whatever. I care about their opinions, but not randoms."
Standing at almost 6-foot-6, Zven is the tallest player in the NA LCS, but at the same time doesn't stand out amongst his peers. Unlike the other big named AD carries of the past in the league, Zven has a businesslike approach to his work, listening to who matters to him and blocking everything else out. While on the surface a 7-7 record is a failure for a team thought of as possibly the best lineup TSM has ever produced, Zven has put up numbers that in a normal split would put him up for consideration in the MVP race. His 6.7 KDA (kills/deaths/assists) is the best on the team and second among starting AD carries in the league, and outside of a few blunders early in the season when he was still getting his bearings, his games have ranged from good to great.
"The team has to gel first," Zven said. "At first, we were playing the wrong things and not practicing the right things. And I think after Week 5, when we went 0-2 against Clutch Gaming and Cloud9, we had a big talk about who does what, how we practice, how efficient we practice, and all that stuff, and I think our coaching staff does a good job of helping us be more efficient."
TSM's biggest issue has been the lack of an attitude on the team and a killer instinct. When it comes to the early parts of the game, TSM, a team well-suited to dominate all three lanes, has been one of the best in the league. Over the course of the regular season, TSM is second only behind Cloud9 when it comes to taking the first three towers in a game, accomplishing that goal in 71 percent of its games. TSM is fourth when it comes to the gold differential at 15 minutes.
The problems ensue the later the game goes on, and when it comes to being the team to make the checkmate maneuver, those moments have been few and far between in 2018.
If TSM wants to be in Miami for its 11th straight NA LCS final, depending on past accomplishments and individual skill won't do. It needs to be more.
"We had a good talk about everything on our team -- how to play the game, what to pick, and what to practice -- and now it's going better for us," Zven said. "We're practicing the right things, and we're doing much better. I just think the first couple of weeks was getting together and gelling."