Watching the most recent TSM versus CLG game I was reminded of what bugs me about League of Legends casters. They like to latch on to fad topics and immediately assume that all good teams do a certain thing really well. For example, they would claim that shot calling is important ergo any team that would win games has good shot calling. The same phenomena can be see with “rotations.” The casters love to say that TSM has such good rotations, but I argue that this is simply another example of the casters thinking “Rotations are important. If you win games, you must have great rotations.” I will not suggest that rotations are not important, they are a legitimate thing that good teams do, nor will I suggest that TSM is a bad team, they aren’t, but I will show that stating that all good teams have good rotations, just because they are good teams, isn’t accurate.
To start with, let us describe “rotations” as being the movement of champions between lanes for either defensive or offensive purposes. In a standard game, two champions are present in the bot lane, one in the mid lane, one in the top lane and one in the jungle. A game can be played, theoretically, without any of the lane champions ever actually leaving their lanes. When champions, other than the jungler, do leave their lane it can be considered to be a rotation. Most of the rotations that are commonly discussed involve more than two players. When one player leaves their lane to go to another lane it is more commonly referred to as “roaming.” Technically, it is a rotation, but the term rotation is usually applied when more than just a single champ is leaving their lane.
I do not think that TSM makes elite level rotations. I think TSM has very good players who quite often do well in lane thus allowing them to exert good map pressure, when TSM chooses. Because TSM does well in lane they don’t tend to do a ton of rotating. Sure they’ll send mid to gank another lane, but they generally don’t need to rotate to succeed. When we do see TSM actually rotate it is usually in reaction to what the other team does. If the other team wants to force Dragon, Baron, a turret etc then TSM will move to counter, and more often than not, team fight.
Team fighting, I feel, is really what TSM does extremely well. Their players are strong mechanically, they lane well and are often ahead or at least not far behind, and they prioritize well in team fights (protect their carries, focus enemy carries, etc). Do they actually rotate effectively? Well, I wouldn’t say that they do a lot of, or very good, proactive rotations but they do react well to what other teams are doing and then crush them in team fights.
Now, when it comes to using rotations proactively to create positive situations for themselves I’m not so convinced that TSM is as good as the announcers would have you believe. The biggest supporting evidence here is their record against teams that team fight at least as well as they do, and rotate better than they do. Historically, TSM gas struggled against most Korean teams and Cloud 9. What do these opponents have in common? They all team fight well, and they all proactively use rotations to put their opponents in bad positions.
All of these teams are able to beat TSM in team fights. Do they do this because TSM is a poor team fighting team? No. TSM is a good team fighting team. These teams beat TSM in team fights because TSM’s own rotations are not good enough to consistently put them in situations where they have the advantage they need to defeat teams who can actually team fight as well they do. Thus, they are able to beat teams like Coast and Curse because they don’t need a rotational advantage to out team fight them, but they cannot beat C9 or teams from Korea because they can’t consistently create the rotational advantages they need to out team fight them.
Supporting this assertion is their latest record against CLG. I contend that CLG used to have a lot of the same strengths as TSM. They had mechanically strong laners, like Hotshot and Jiji, who were better than their opponents and CLG could team fight extremely well because of the advantages their good lanes provided them with. But, CLG could not beat TSM because they could not out team fight or out rotate them. TSM would react extremely well to whatever CLG tried to do and would proceed to out team fight them.
As CLG started to make changes to their roster throughout the second and third seasons they never really established themselves as being strong laners, or being able to use strong rotations or team fights. Recently, CLG has established a steady roster that has generated some success. Their lanes are not necessarily the strongest lanes, their players not the most mechanically talented, but they have developed a strong tactical presence. Their team fights are much improved but are still not quite as good as teams like TSM or C9. What many pundits have said they are starting to do almost as well as C9 are their rotations. What CLG lacks in their lanes or their team fighting prioritization/coordination they make up for with by using rotations to put themselves in a superior position to their opponents when team fighting.
In the most recent matchup, the last in March, between CLG and TSM we saw this playing out. CLG still struggled to beat TSM in team fights, often losing fights even when in advantageous positions. The reason that CLG won the game was that they continued to rotate and put themselves in better positions than those taken by TSM. TSM may be a better team fighting team, but CLG defeated them by avoiding unnecessary team fights and then putting themselves favorable positions for the fights they did fight. TSM still won or came close to winning many of these fights but CLG put them on the back foot so often that even TSM’s superior fighting eventually couldn’t overcome the fact that they almost always fighting from inferior positions.
CLG defeated TSM by playing a style of game similar to that used by C9 and most of the Korean teams and was able to produce results similar to what happens when C9 or Korean teams play TSM. What this says to me is that, counter to the popular opinion of many of the NA commentators, TSM does not have superior rotations. Does this make them a bad team? No. Does this mean their rotations are bad? No. They are an excellent team fighting team and they use that to beat opponents who are not as strong in lane or in team fights. TSM is also extremely good at countering the moves of their opponents. This is certainly a form of rotating, but it is only the defensive part of it.
Being good at team fighting and defensive rotations is enough for TSM to beat inferior teams, but it is not enough to consistently defeat teams with similar team fighting abilities and elite rotational capabilities. Korean teams and C9 all possess incredible defensive and offensive rotational capabilities. While TSM is able to counter the sloppy rotations of inferior opponents, they struggle to keep up with teams who are able to out rotate them offensively and defensively. TSM wins games by bullying their opponents in lane and beating them in straight up team fights, not by using rotations to gain advantages over them.
Until TSM becomes better at utilizing offensive rotations, perhaps demonstrated by TSM obtaining success against teams such as C9 or various Korean teams who are renowned for their superior rotations, I don’t think it is accurate to say that TSM makes extremely good rotations – as has been the recent claim. In no way is this piece claiming that TSM is a bad team. It is simply demonstrating that being a “good” team in League of Legends is not, despite what the casters claim, necessarily synonymous with making elite rotations.