The North American League of Legends Championship Series summer split MVP race was tighter than most over the past few years, which sparked debate. With the two most likely contenders, Cloud9’s Nicolaj “Jensen” Jensen and Team SoloMid’s Søren “Bjergsen” Bjerg, backed by the two largest fan bases in the region, arguments often spiraled into vicious back-and-forths. Both sides brought their respective statistics, eye tests, and biases leading up to the awards announcements.
When Jensen was announced as the first-team All-Pro mid laner, the community erupted. With MVP yet to be disclosed at the time and only two points separating Jensen (94 points) and Bjergsen (92 points) in the voting, it appeared to be a strong indicator Jensen had wrapped up the MVP award as well.
All NA LCS awards voting is now transparent. You can easily look at the raw data and find that I voted Jensen as the best-performing mid laner for the All-Pro team, and Bjergsen for MVP. With Bjergsen announced Saturday as MVP, the debate provides excellent framework for the discussion of what makes an MVP, along with how my own biases and what I value in a player contributed to selecting Jensen for one award and Bjergsen for the other.
How many players in the North American League Championship Series can be considered the league’s Most Valuable Player year after year?
Since the birth of statistics website Oracle’s Elixir that tracks KDA alongside kill participation percentage, laning statistics like CS per minute, CS difference at 10 minutes, gold difference at 10 minutes, and damage stats, Bjergsen has remained at or near the top of the charts for starting mid laners over a span of three years. The statistics time span doesn’t include his inaugural NA split in spring 2014, in which he razed through the regular season with spectacular KDAs week after week, despite TSM’s eventual loss to Cloud9 in the finals. From the moment he set foot in America, Bjergsen became the player to beat.
What happens when excellence becomes expected rather than continuously celebrated?
We have come to expect brilliance from Bjergsen. There are a myriad of reasons why that’s the case, and he has only improved over time. When TSM struggles as a team, Bjergsen is always there as a fallback. When TSM is adjusting to a new meta, the team can rely on Bjergsen to have mastered whatever meta champion is necessary. When Bjergsen must push to cover his jungler as TSM adjusts to the new team dynamic, he does it without issue. Even when the cracks are visible on the team, Bjergsen will keep TSM in the playoff hunt, and by that point in time, the team will have adjusted enough to make the finals. His impact is already legendary and historic.
He’s only improved as a player over time, evolving from a power mid to the malleable goal of all others that are made to follow in his footsteps. No sooner is someone at his heels than he manages to shift the goalposts forward, making his achievements even more difficult for others to reach.
Naturally, that causes a dissonance between how Bjergsen is evaluated and how all other players are evaluated. Bjergsen is often judged on a higher scale of his own making, where other players in contention for the MVP award are judged at a different level. The NBA has the LeBron James Effect. The NA LCS has the Bjergsen Effect.
What does this have to do with this specific MVP race? Everything.
Even with Jensen’s remarkable statistics and performance during the split, he was inevitably compared to the reigning king, Bjergsen. He and all other NA LCS mid laners — and by extension, any player in the MVP race — will be forced into that comparison until Bjergsen’s skill degrades beyond recognition or he retires. Just as every up-and-coming mid laner fresh off of the Korean solo queue ladder will inevitably be compared to Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok, NA LCS mids domestic and imported will end up in a side-by-side comparison to Bjergsen. They’ll almost always be found lacking.
This hasn’t been Bjergsen’s flashiest season, and TSM hasn’t always been the best team. In true TSM tradition, it has struggled to adjust to new patches and continued to have a few communication errors when it came time for Dennis “Svenskeren” Johnsen to apply jungle pressure. Ingratiating AD carry Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng back onto the roster wasn’t always smooth. TSM’s play wasn’t always pretty, but the team still finished first in the regular season, earning a bye into the semifinals. Throughout all of this, Bjergsen’s efforts were a large part of TSM’s victories.
By contrast, Jensen was the stronger statistical performer. He finished with the highest KDA of any player this split (8.7) with Bjergsen in second at 6.8, had monstrous laning numbers that beat Bjergsen’s, and has the least percentage of his team’s deaths of any mid.
Jensen has also, at times, drawn the ire of the community for seemingly no reason other than the fact that he is in contention with Bjergsen, which is remarkably unfair. When he puts up exceptional numbers, he and C9 are wrongfully criticized for their over-reliance on him. When he remains safe in team fights, he’s immediately blasted as a “KDA player.” When C9 moves away from him as a default carry, he’s accused of not carrying the team hard enough.
In reality, it’s been wonderful to watch Jensen grow and improve throughout the split. He now covers for Juan “Contractz” Arturo Garcia, aiding the jungler in early routes and allowing for better invades. He knows when to push, when to roam, and his coordination with his C9 teammates this past split has been the best it has been in his career.
Yet, I still voted Bjergsen as this split’s MVP. Unfortunately for Jensen, all of the things that he’s learned, improved upon, and evolved across the summer split, Bjergsen still does better.
Last split, I voted No “Arrow” Dong-hyeon as the MVP, with Bjergsen second, and continue to stand by that decision. Phoenix1 would not have made it nearly as far as it did without Arrow, who was the sole reason behind some of the team’s spring victories. In a split where the team was plagued with roster substitutions and indecision regarding their jungle position, Arrow became the bedrock of the team, dragging P1 over the finish line on Jhin, Ashe, Ezreal, and Varus.
No other AD carry that spring came close to his performance and if P1 had played with any other ADC, it would not have finished third.
This eye test of wins above replacement — it has thus far proved impossible to statistically calculate this in League of Legends due to the immeasurable amount of variables in the potential equation — shifts Bjergsen into the MVP position in my eyes. TSM would not see the same success if it replaced Bjergsen with any other mid laner in the region.
Cloud9 could replace Jensen with only one mid laner in NA and have similar or better success. That mid laner is Bjergsen.
Cover photo courtesy of Riot Games