LCS 2021: Why Hauntzer will Eventually be Starting for TSM Next Year

League of Legends. Photo Courtesy of Riot Games.
League of Legends. Photo Courtesy of Riot Games. /

TSM made a very good decision to add Hauntzer to their Academy team.

TSM made a lot of observers raise their eyebrows when they decided to acquire Heo “Huni” Seung-hoon from Evil Geniuses to become their starting top laner. Many saw Huni as a player on the downturn and wondered if his best days were behind him. However, yesterday TSM signed veteran top laner and member of those famed 2016/2017 TSM teams, Kevin “Hauntzer” Yarnell to their Academy team.

As I previously detailed, it was ridiculous that Hauntzer hadn’t found a team during the free agency period, so TSM getting him to play for their Academy team is a massive coup. Hauntzer was, by my estimation, one of the three or four best top laners in the LCS in 2020. And this creates an interesting situation for TSM.

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Obviously, the two players are complete polar opposites in terms of style (Huni is far more aggressive than Hauntzer, who tends to be much lower variance), which gives new team head coach Søren “Bjergsen” Bjerg the ability to swap the two in the lineup depending on the meta and matchups. But having a stable player like Hauntzer always waiting in the wings will serve to put pressure on Huni to perform as well as act like an insurance policy should Huni’s play falter.

In 2020, Hauntzer rated ahead of Huni in deaths per game (2.6 vs 3.3), gold per minute (379 vs 369), and gold difference at 15 (+235 vs -305). Although Huni was superior in stats such as kill participation, kill share, gold share, and damage output, that was precisely because Huni was so resource-dependent in his champion pool and playstyle.

If you look at the most-played and strongest champions of the two, you see that Huni had his best performances on champions like Gnar, Rumble, and Aatrox, while Hauntzer was a superior Ornn and Sett player. That contrast of styles is a big reason why Huni is probably going to get the starting nod for TSM, but why he might not stay there.

All offseason, LCS commentators have talked about the need for NA to start adapting to a more early-game skirmish-style like we see in China and Europe. This means teams need to have a strong, carry top laner that they can play through. This is why you saw TL sign Alphari, C9 move off Licorice for Fudge, CLG added Finn, and TSM responded by bringing on Huni.

However, Huni’s play is so inconsistent, if TSM struggles I can absolutely foresee that they will switch to Hauntzer just to stabilize the rest of the roster. In fact, I see that as likely.

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Remember, none of the members of TSM have played together, outside of Spica and Lost in Academy. This team is going to need time to develop chemistry. When they start losing, Huni may very well be one of the easy scapegoats for Bjergsen to pull from the lineup, especially with a proven veteran waiting in the wings.

The fact that this veteran is a friend of the coach will likely make the decision easier. The fact that he’s probably better than the player they signed to be their starter also helps.