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SwordArt signs with TSM for $6 million over 2 years

North American esports has its first $ 6 million man. TSM has signed Hu “SwordArt” Shuo-Chieh to a two-year contract that will pay him $ 3 million for both 2021 and 2022, giving the professional “League of Legends” player what is believed to be the richest salary in the LCS and among any esports team based in the United States or Canada.

The guaranteed deal, which was speculated on previously, eclipses the previously reported high of Dignitas’s deal of $ 2.3 million over two years for Heo “Huni” Seung-hoon.

The Taiwanese-born Shuo-Chieh, 23, is coming off a Worlds performance where he helped lead a young, dark horse team, Suning, to the finals from the game’s support position. His abilities caught the eye of TSM founder Andy Dinh, whose team had failed to win a match during that tournament and also lost star players Søren “Bjergsen” Bjerg, who became their coach, and Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng to retirement during this offseason.

Saying that he thinks TSM will one day become the Dallas Cowboys, Real Madrid, and F.C. Barcelona “combined,” Dinh said he sees the $ 6 million as “a really small investment a decade down the road.”

“My investment thesis is that teams that win build dollars down the road … teams that create a legacy and a large fan base and consistency of winning,” said Andy Dinh, founder of TSM. “It just makes sense for TSM to spend these dollars to recruit players.”

Asked if his play at World’s was the catalyst for the groundbreaking signing, Dinh said, “It had to be. I was really impressed with his play … and finding out that Bjergsen was retiring made this a good time for the investment.”

Dinh said he hopes Shuo-Chieh, who will be the starter at his position replacing Vincent “Biofrost” Wang, will bring leadership and a knowledge of how to win games internationally to the team which, like all North American teams has struggled on the international stage. TSM’s founder also said he sees the move as a signal that North American teams are ready to compete on the world stage.

“I’m actually really excited for North America’s trajectory,” Dinh said. “Teams in North America are generally at a disadvantage because of natural [talent] pool. They have less to work with. I think that the investment we made, and other teams’ [investments in other players], reinforces that our team and our region is really serious.”

With Shuo-Chieh onboard, Dinh said he expects his other players to step up.

“I think it’s a lot of pressure on the players SwordArt is going to be playing with,” Dinh said. “He’s a worlds finalist and there’s a minimum level of expectation to be playing with a player of that caliber.”

With this signing, Dinh said he sees TSM as an immediate contender at Worlds this coming season, and was candid in his assessment of what he expects from his roster.

“I think the extremely large stretch goal is Worlds finals,” he said. “I think it would be a travesty if we don’t get to quarters. The expectations are really clear: our players better work their a — es off.”

Noah Smith is a regular contributor to The Washington Post and staff journalist for Direct Relief, a nonprofit. Follow his work on Twitter @Vildehaya.

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