By Petar Vukobrat
March 26, 2020
If things pan out as expected, a brand-new LCS champion will be crowned in a matter of weeks. Team Liquid, one of the most talented and stacked line-ups in North American history, is still in the running for playoffs (mathematically speaking), but the odds of them reaching Top 6 (let alone defending their throne) are extremely small. Some might argue they’re non-existent, but seeing how this is Team Liquid we’re talking about, we’ll stay reserved until they’re down and out for certain.
With a fairly underwhelming seven wins and nine losses, however, the odds are heavily stacked against them. How did such a staggeringly powerful team even get to this point? A line-up with two World Champions, one of the most talented Western mid laners in history, and the best North American AD carry to ever grace the stage? That’s a recipe for success if there ever was one, and sure enough — they found it over the last four splits, but the fashion in which they regressed simply boggles the mind.
Some will blame their visa issues coming into 2020. That was certainly a tricky challenge but it’s not the main culprit or reason behind their fall from grace. Others, however, will focus on Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng’s motivation (or lack thereof) and its effect on the team. We’ll probably never find out the truth behind all of this, primarily because it lies somewhere in the middle, hidden from everyone, including the five-man Liquid line-up.
The question of motivation is an important one, and it should not be ignored. Where does one find the strength to compete after winning all there was to win, after dominating beyond measure for two years in a row? Liquid found themselves in a problem that was previously reserved for only a select few, for similar champions who reigned for far too long. Everyone’s motivation wanes with time, and if you’re playing at the highest of levels, you’re bound to burn out sooner or later.
Liquid, to their credit, lasted far longer than their (few) critics expected. In fact, by winning the LCS four times in a row they set a record that’ll probably remain unchallenged for many, many years. Now sure, they didn’t find any success internationally (except that one great run at the 2019 Mid-Season Invitational) so that was always a goal for everyone involved: to leave a mark on the biggest stage in the world. Then again, the idea of a North American team making a splash at the World Championship became somewhat utopian over the years — Cloud9 has been the only team to succeed in such an endeavor, primarily because they’re the least NA team (philosophy, coaching, and playstyle-wise) in the region.
Even Doublelift, a man graced with supreme confidence and motivation, started to doubt his chances to do much at Worlds. How could he not, after being shut down year after year, regardless of roster or meta.
A good number of the 10 LCS permanent partners still have the drive to compete because they’ve yet to taste success and ultimate triumph. For Team Liquid, however, lifting the LCS trophy is no longer that enticing. They’re motivated now probably because of sheer ego — they’re not used to playing second fiddle, nor do they enjoy being ridiculed and outplayed on the Summoner’s Rift. For them, this is a strange, unknown position.
At the time of this writing, Team Liquid is in sole possession of seventh place. They’re one win behind Immortals and 100 Thieves who are the frontrunners for the playoffs. This is where the biggest problem lies. Liquid is 0-2 against Immortals in their head to head record so even if they tie them in the 2020 Spring Split standings, Immortals will still advance because of their positive tally.
They’re tied with 100 Thieves with one win apiece, so there’s a slim chance of Liquid forcing a tiebreaker. Then again, “slim chance” feels like an understatement given each team’s strength of schedule.
100 Thieves has Team SoloMid and Counter Logic Gaming lined up for this week, whereas Liquid has FlyQuest and Cloud9. There’s a huge difference between the level of opponents they have to face and to make matters even worse, Liquid has Cloud9 — a team many have as the frontrunner to win the whole split. That’s pretty much a guaranteed loss at this point, and they’ll face an uphill battle against FlyQuest as well.
Liquid either has to step up immensely in a staggeringly short amount of time, or they’ll fail to qualify for the playoffs. Unfortunately, the odds of them succeeding seem nigh impossible. While Liquid does have a history of pulling off the unimaginable, it does feel like this is a battle they simply won’t be able to win.
It’s still hard to feel the community’s pulse for such an unexpected development, but it seems like everyone agrees: Liquid did very little over the last eight weeks and is undeserving of a spot in the Top 6.
Some fans are even celebrating, seeing how this sudden change in the LCS status quo could usher in a new, more exciting era. Generally speaking, Liquid’s playstyle evokes two entirely different reactions. You either think they were an exciting LCS champion, one that was dominant beyond measure, or a champion whose reign was devoid of many thrills — a titan who played things “by the book.” In reality, however, they seem to be a mix of both. One thing, however, is for certain: they only showed the world what they were truly made of when they were pushed to the brink of defeat.
Only then did we see one of the most talented and capable rosters in LCS history. When their backs were against the wall, when they were down and seemingly beaten, only then did they shine bright. Over the last two years, only two teams of somewhat equal strength and potential were able to trade heavy blows: Cloud9 and Team SoloMid, the remaining two-thirds of the LCS pantheon.
When Liquid faced inferior opposition, however, they were often underwhelming, and not nearly as dominant as people expected. The reasoning behind this is fairly simple: they only fought as hard as was necessary. The regular season is long and exhausting, so such an approach does make sense in the long run. Why burn out on the “random” and “inconsequential” matches, when you can store your energy and wait for big clashes that’ll go down in the history books!
Still, from an outsider’s perspective, their run wasn’t that exciting primarily because you knew they’d always win — that was the only logical outcome, given the sheer depth and talent present within their line-up. The only possible way for a team to beat them is to have better players, to be more flexible, and play a more commanding brand of League of Legends. That, frankly, did not exist in North America up until 2020.
In the end, Liquid’s biggest threat and enemy wasn’t a team that could match them lane for lane but rather Liquid themselves. All things considered, if this is the end of their dominant reign over North America, it certainly didn’t come in a way that was expected. Heck, many thought the inclusion of Mads “Broxah” Brock-Pedersen would reinvigorate the roster and allow them to dominate even further, but for various reasons, their plan simply didn’t come to fruition.
Still, the inevitable end of their regional dominance is a cause for celebration — we’ll finally see a couple of brand-new narratives spring to life. Teams will have a bigger reason to tryhard, now that there’s no seemingly unassailable giant occupying the throne! Even Team Liquid will perhaps reinvent themselves during the offseason and enter the 2020 Summer Split with a chip on their shoulder, stronger and more aggressive than ever before. They needed this wake-up call, and fortunately, a failed split is by no means the end all be all.
We should embrace this unexpected development with open arms. This, in a way, was just what the LCS lackied — uncertainty. By having a brand-new LCS champion, the LCS will be less predictable, making it much more exciting for everyone involved.
As for Team Liquid fans, they’ll be glued to their seats this weekend, cheering on their favorite team to pull off a seismic upset and once again defy the odds.