“It feels amazing,” says Evan ‘Verhulst’ Verhulst on signing for Team SoloMid, the biggest organisation in Apex Legends esports. “I feel like I got kind of lucky. You know, not everyone gets these opportunities.” Verhulst is just 19 and joined TSM in the middle of a tumultuous season, but he sells himself short. Prior to his big move, he was fragging for ESA who were top of the ALGS leaderboards. TSM, for all its prestige and past success, was languishing in mid-table.
According to Jordan ‘Reps’ Wolfe, TSM had been trying out different team compositions with their eyes on what would be most effective at LAN, but nothing had clicked. Then Halo Infinite multiplayer shadow dropped and Eric ‘Snip3down’ Wrona, who had come to Apex from Halo esports, made the decision to switch allegiance to Infinite’s burgeoning esports scene. Reps and IGL Phillip ‘ImperialHal’ Dosen, who had a scheduling clash so couldn’t make our interview, needed a third quick.
“We talked multiple times, and there was no confirmation if [Snip3down] was going to leave,” Reps explains. “He basically said he wanted to stay on Apex. And then certain things happened. Maybe he got a really good deal or something. But at the end of the day, he came from Halo and he had a good deal to go [back] into Halo. There’s obviously no hard feelings between us at all.
“He offered to play with us to finish [ALGS Split 1] out, but we wanted to move on as quickly as possible. Because if there's LANs coming up, we want to build our synergy with our new player and try to become as good as possible. So the whole process was so quick – it was literally overnight – because we're mid pro league and we just wanted to get our new teammate right away.”
Verhulst was an obvious choice after he had quickly become known as one of the best Valkyrie players in the region. But it was understandably a big decision for the teenager, who says it was “one of my more stressful weeks of Apex.” Again, I can’t help but feel he’s downplaying things. After all, moving would not only mean leaving behind the team that helped put him on the map – a team that worked incredibly well together and was flying in the ALGS – but also relocating to Texas to live in the TSM house.
Talking through things with his family helped him to make the decision, and they encouraged him to think about TSM’s age and pedigree – in his words “a set in stone org” – and the job security that comes with that. He says that finances were “a pretty big motivator,” citing the org’s following as another major reason he wanted to join. ImperialHal is the biggest streamer in the Apex pro scene, and TSM’s success since the esport’s inception has given them a loyal fanbase.
It’s already worked out, he’s earned more in prizes from TSM’s one tournament in 2022 than he did in the entirety of 2021. His Twitch streams have also blown up, going from averaging 150 viewers on a good day to nearly 2,000 since making the switch. As esports prize pools continue to be a point of contention in Apex, diversifying your income streams and building your online presence is all but necessary.
He had “a little bit of hope,” that TSM would get in touch when he found out Snip3down was leaving, but he says he didn’t quite believe the news at first. Many didn’t – his final tournament with TSM occurred on the same weekend as his first Halo Infinite tournament for FaZe. Would he balance the ALGS and HCS? Was it possible? But Reps knew it was Snip3down’s last match on the TSM roster.
“We really wanted to get first that week,” he says. “We just wanted to leave on a good note, you know? We definitely got emotional at the end of the games, after the stream.” TSM managed to get second place in that round, but Snip3down’s final contribution was their best result of the Pro League season, and helped them to qualify for Playoffs.
“[Playoffs] is the biggest tournament I’ve ever played in and my biggest win by far,” says Verhulst. But playing in the biggest tournaments with the biggest team means more people watching your every move, and more pressure to perform.
“When I swapped it was kind of hard and a little bit pressure for me because I went from playing in front of like 200 viewers to like 30,000 with Hal and Reps,” he says. “Whenever there's a main broadcast, they’re always putting TSM in the spotlight. I'm used to it now but definitely for the first month after joining, it was kind of like a mental thing, kind of hard.”
TSM was under more pressure than usual after its lacklustre performance in the Pro League Split 1. “The pressure was there, but we weren’t nervous,” says Reps. “We're super competitive, we really want to win. Every time there's a major tournament, the vibe changes completely.”
What the TSM vibe is exactly is hard to pinpoint. IGL ImperialHal is notorious for being aggressive in his shotcalling and criticism of his teammates when their backs are against the wall, but both Verhulst and Reps say this leadership style helps them thrive.
“I've never had a problem with it,” explains Verhulst. “I've always enjoyed having someone who holds you accountable and is really aggressive in their communication. It's a character trait you want in your IGL.”
Reps says it has gone too far in the past, but Hal now restrains himself: “We've had talks about it and brought up that sometimes there's some things that can be an issue and it goes too far. At the point we are now, there's no issues at all.”
Whether it’s through tough love or just turning on their A-game when it matters most, TSM is working on replicating the winning formula from Playoffs and bottling their competitive edge to be more consistent over Split 2. Reps says they want to “come in really strong and try to win every week.” It seems obvious, but TSM strikes me as having fire in its belly heading into the second half of the season.
TSM will have to adapt again for the second half of the ALGS season though, as EA announced that Storm Point will be a playable map just two weeks before Split 2 is due to start. This time, though, TSM won’t be alone, as every team will be adapting to the unexpected changes to competitive tournaments.
“Some of these zones I've been seeing [on Storm Point] are not good at all,” says Reps. “On World’s Edge, most of the end game zones have multiple playable spots, but some of these ones on the Storm Point have maybe one playable spot.”
TSM is changing up its team composition for the new map, too, with ImperialHal switching from Wraith to Ash to navigate the large open spaces and reach high ground that Wraith’s portal can’t get to. Reps also believes we’ll see a lot more Charge Rifles – he’ll be running it whenever his Gibby can get his hands on one. But at the end of Split 2, there’s another goal in sight: Apex Legends’ first LAN in years.
The ALGS planned to have regular LAN events, all of which were scuppered by the pandemic, the Split 1 Playoffs being the latest blow. TSM thrives at in-person events – it’s won both S-Tier LANs it has been a part of at the X Games and the Apex Legends Preseason Invitational respectively – so it’s no surprise that Reps is confident.
“I can't wait to play on LAN again,” he says. “The environment on LAN is completely different. People play completely different: they play scared. They're nervous because they're at LAN and money’s on the line. That's where me and Hal thrive especially. I don't think Evan has played on LAN yet, but we have full confidence in him doing really well.”
TSM is looking to carry its momentum through Split 2 and into the big money tournaments at the end of the season, and if the team can find its major competition form on a weekly basis it will take a lot to stop them.
“I don’t know who’s in our group,” says Reps, “But nobody worries us.”
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