Banner image: Ubisoft/Kirill B.
Before the news that Bryan “Merc” Wrzek tested positive for COVID-19, TSM was considered a favorite to win the Mexico Major. TSM is one of the titans of North America, having consistently placed in the top four at least of every international event since before the Six Invitational 2020.
“Everyone holds us to a really high standard, which they should,” said Matthew “Achieved” Solomon in a Ubisoft-organized press conference. TSM’s standard for the past two years has been excellence and nothing short of a title run is good enough for the team.
One would think that TSM would be better prepared to use a stand-in, as it had to use its coach Owen “Pojoman” Mitura in place of Emilio “Geo” Cuevas during Stage 2 of the NAL. Standing in for Merc, however, has been a different beast entirely for this roster.
To start, TSM only had two total days of practice to figure out how to replace arguably North America’s purest entry player. “We got word of it really late, three days before was when we knew for sure,” said Achieved of Merc’s test results. Pojoman added that due to needing to travel to Mexico, that small three-day gap was truncated to a mere two days.
Not only has the move forced Jason “Beaulo” Doty and Achieved to share map control-taking duties, it’s left gaps in TSM’s droning, according to the team. This affects its ability to make crucial mid-round decisions and it’s made the intel-gathering process significantly more difficult. Beaulo described the amount of time given to the team to figure out how they would adjust with a simple “not enough”.
When it comes to similarities between the visa situation with Geo and the COVID situation with Merc, Beaulo says there are few. “Pojo has been playing Geo’s roles since the beginning of time,” he stated. “I don’t think Pojo has ever played an operator with a grenade in Pro League or anything that’s supposed to be, you know, getting on in there.”
“It’s nothing like Geo,” Beaulo stated emphatically.
Pojoman issued a slight correction: Thermite had frag grenades in 2016, when Pojoman had been in the Pro League just five years ago.
Losing Merc has had a ripple effect on how TSM plays the game. The core of this roster has been together and playing more or less the exact same way since 2019, and its players now have to change the way they play as individuals to account for Merc’s absence.
“We all hold ourselves to high standards, we all want to come out here and win this event,” said Achieved. “But we all need to understand the circumstances that we have been put through in this event.”
TSM is not completely out of the event, but it can ill afford to lose more matches in the group stage. On day two, a massive match with Team Empire looms large on the horizon, and a rematch with Invictus follows. TSM will almost assuredly fall in the group stage should it not win those games in regulation, but not living up to its lofty standards doesn’t seem so bad considering the circumstances.