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Editor’s note: this story has been updated to correctly reflect the timeline of TSM’s five championships and roster at the time.
Renegades were all that stood between TSM and the Apex Legends Global Series Split 1 Playoffs Championship. The mostly-veteran squad were among the seven who had reached Match Point, and they had done it first. One more game and things were over for the other 19 squads in the tournament. Unfortunately for those squads, Renegades could not stand against the absolutely vicious TSM – who collectively put up 16 kills in this game alone – and the Split 1 Champions were crowned.
Building a dynasty on a time crunch
Coming into these playoff matches, TSM were at a clear disadvantage. At the end of the regular season, the team faced a significant roster change. Eric “Snip3down” Wrona retired from Apex Legends and made the shift to Halo: Infinite on FaZe Clan’s roster in mid-December. TSM were once considered the greatest team in Apex, becoming five-time LAN champions during the early days of the esport when Mac “Albralelie” Beckwith was on the team. Snip3down, Phillip “ImperialHal” Dosen and Jordan “Reps” Wolfe became squadmates after this historic run, but still demonstrated frightening levels of skill. The team placed third in the ALGS Championship last June. Though they weren’t quite the same top performers this past season, Snip3down still left huge shoes to fill.
Former Esports Arena member Evan Verhulst took Snip3down’s spot on the TSM Apex squad, but they haven’t had much time to play together as a team. Going into the playoffs, many players were joking that TSM’s era was over. To be fair, they were very much a squad still in transition heading into the competition. They were experimenting with their team composition and playstyle to see what fit best.
“When you have a new player a lot of things can change,” TSM’s in-game-leader ImperialHal said. “Since we had that time before playoffs, we’ve been just trying different characters, different playstyles. We’re not really entirely ready compared to every other team right now. But I don’t think it’s gonna hold us back. I think we still have a good enough chance to win.”
TSM came into Game 1 with a roar, as if to prove ImperialHal’s word true. The squad racked up 15 kills, showing off the flawless teamwork between ImperialHal and Reps after Verhulst went down. The pair have been representing TSM together for three years and their experience working as teammates shows. Though they didn’t win this initial round, their performance rocketed them up the leaderboard.
Competing with confidence
ImperialHal and his teammates may have felt a bit underprepared compared to some of their competitors, but this first game made it apparent that no one should count TSM out yet. This is likely due to ImperialHal’s approach to events like these.
“I think the biggest thing, when you’re going into a big tournament, is to maintain the confidence,” he said. “If you don’t have the confidence, you start to hesitate and you’re not aggressive enough. Then, you just kind of die without any kills and getting points, so it all starts with confidence.”
And “confident” is definitely an apt description for the way ImperialHal plays Apex Legends. During the playoffs, he was fearless, engaging in tricky but aggressive flanks and often succeeding. But that doesn’t mean the IGL is selfish or unaware of his teammates. On the contrary, he’s all too aware of how he may impact Verhulst’s performance as both the team’s leader and a veteran of the scene.
“Typically, when you’re the new guy on the team, they’re scared to do their own thing. You know, they’re not comfortable yet,” ImperialHal said. “I don’t think he’s uncomfortable. I just don’t think he’s loose yet.
[But] if I kind of give [the team] that confidence to do their own thing and tell them what to do, I think we’ll play really well. It’s just about me knowing what to do in the moment so I could help them play their best.”
Getting to Game 7
TSM proved their captain right again in Game 4. Just before the battle between the final two squads – TSM and ESA – Reps went down, leaving ImperialHal and Verhulst to secure the win in a 2v3. The team’s newbie rose to the occasion against his former teammates and TSM won the round. They became the first team to reach Match Point in the playoffs with 58 points. If they could win the next game, they would win the whole thing.
🔥With a wicked wingman, @TSM take Match 4!
This was pivotal! TSM is at Match Point!🔥
— Apex Legends Esports (@PlayApexEsports) January 24, 2022
From the start of Game 5, ImperialHal showed no signs of slowing down. Within the first round he became the Kill Leader with three kills, snagging a golden shield in the process. Unfortunately, TSM found themselves in the middle of a firefight between several squads as the lobby came down to 13 teams. ImperialHal went hard with the L-Star, but it wasn’t enough to overcome Lazarus, who had the high ground and resources on them. The Playoffs were going to a Game 6; Esports Arena had just cracked Match Point with 51.
Both teams fell to Cloud9 in Game 6, pushing the tournament to yet another match. In the end, everything came down to Game 7. The squad refused to back down, playing both strategically and aggressively to take the final game they needed to win it all. This match broke TSM’s record for kills in a game; they came in at 16 kills, and Verhulst had eight of them. ImperialHal was at the top of the kills leaderboard at the end with 18; Reps was right behind him with 17. It should come as no surprise that ImperialHal received both the Monster MVP and Apex Predator awards on the ALGS broadcast after the game.
According to Verhulst in a post-game interview with caster Jon “Falloutt” Kefaloukos, it was ImperialHal’s calls and skill as an in-game leader that led them to this dynamic victory.
“He is unbelievable,” Verhulst said when asked what he thought about ImperialHal. “Every Valk ult today he would just magically pick the best spot somehow. It felt so good knowing we were going to land safe while literally every other team was dying. His calls were phenomenal today and it really shows why he’s the best player right now, the most proven player.”
A new dawn for the TSM Apex dynasty
Before the playoffs, ImperialHal was well aware that TSM were not the squad fans had originally known back in the early days of competitive Apex. In the past, they were a team that built themselves on winning. ImperialHal wanted the fans who have stuck around through their latest slump to know they’re appreciated.
“It sucks for me and it sucks for especially the fans that watch us not be who we were before,” he said. “We just really appreciate people that have stuck around still through the bad performances recently.”
Those fans were richly rewarded for their loyalty on Sunday; they got to witness their team rise from the ashes, new and dangerous. TSM’s performance in the Split 1 Playoffs was a twofold statement: Reps and ImperialHal aren’t done dominating this scene yet, and Verhulst is both ready and capable of stepping up to their level. The young gun himself seems to be feeling confident about the future he and his teammates can create for TSM Apex.
“I think we definitely have the potential to be another dynasty here,” Verhulst said to Falloutt.
Though one playoff championship does not a dynasty make, TSM’s win last Sunday has certainly put them one step closer to reaching the heights they used to achieve. With the solid foundation of Reps’ experience and ImperialHal’s leadership, Verhulst seems poised to grow into another titan of the scene. Only time will tell if the squad will be able to make good on all that potential, but going into Split 2, NA better watch out for TSM.