By Petar Vukobrat
September 9, 2019
The number four is intrinsically tied to Team Liquid. The many times they finished fourth became a meme because it felt like an inevitable outcome. No matter their strength, it looked like there was a palpable skill ceiling above them, regardless of the roster. It felt like they were destined to finish fourth; a perpetual punishment with no end in sight. So what gives? How are we once all of a sudden inhabiting a world in which they are champions? How did they pull off such a seismic turnaround, and in doing so etched their names in LCS history?
To say that things took a turn for the better once franchising kicked in would indeed be an understatement. And while we can talk for hours about how Steve Arhancet bought the best and most talented players available, we’d be doing a huge disservice to the organization, their coaching staff, and the players as well.
Throwing money at a problem until it is fixed doesn’t always work. In Liquid’s case, however, it did, but there’s more to the story than meets the eye. This isn’t the first time a bona fide super team was assembled, and yet it is the first of its kind that attained immense success. For Liquid, their coaching staff deserves about as much praise as the players themselves.
In short, things blended in such a fashion that enabled the creation of the best and most successful North American team the region ever fostered. There’s not a weak link or a huge, glaring weakness that can easily be exploited. Instead, they’re well-rounded, mechanically talented, and constantly in-sync. They’re not perfect, but they’re darn close, at least by LCS standards.
Less than two weeks have passed since Liquid’s five-person roster hoisted the LCS trophy in front of thousands of roaring fans. It was a seismic achievement in every regard. It was the first moment they took control of their narrative — the moment they made the number four count. By beating Cloud9, they became the first team in LCS history to win four titles in a row.
The fact that North America isn’t the most competitive of regions doesn’t deflate Liquid’s staggering triumph. Team SoloMid never accomplished such a thing, and neither did Cloud9 or Counter Logic Gaming.
Liquid not only became a part of an elite club by winning back in 2018 Spring, but they also became its best representative over time. To remain as relevant and strong as they did in such a hyper-competitive landscape is worthy of the highest praise. The fact that they didn’t always steamroll through their opposition only strengthens their narrative.
They weren’t infallible. Instead, they bled; they were prone to making egregious errors and dropping games they had no business losing. And yet they persevered. They always found a way to come back stronger and to clutch things out when it mattered the most.
That is the hallmark of a real team, of a competitor that outworks everyone else — of a champion that wants to win the most. The old adage “to get to the top is easy; staying there is hard” rings true for competitive esports as much as it does for traditional sports.
There was never an LCS champion as strong and courageous as Team Liquid.
But what about their chances at the international stage?
Liquid’s Top 2 finish at the most recent 2019 Mid-Season Invitational got everyone thinking — is this the beginning of something big? The sight of Europe and North America clashing in the finals turned the status quo on its head. This was the equivalent of a tectonic shift as far as competitive League is concerned.
The finals were always reserved for the best Eastern teams. The West had no business being there, and even when someone did advance further, it felt like a one-off thing, like a statistical mistake.
But Europe rose through the ranks. The LEC assembled a titan of unparalleled strength of their own and released it into the wild. For a short moment, it felt like we were all watching a fight between G2 Esports and two Eastern giants: Invictus Gaming and SKT T1.
No one gave Team Liquid much of a chance, and with good reason. North American teams and the international stage is not exactly an iconic duo. Team Liquid, in that context, was more of an afterthought.
But again, the LCS champions found an avenue towards success. They capitalized, they played to their strengths and in doing so made the world take notice.
These were shocking sights. At once both exhilarating and baffling. And yet regardless of our allegiance, we cheered and celebrated for one reason and one reason only: we were witnessing the dawn of a new era of competitive League of Legends.
We understood that these two teams could upset the established order; to stop the era of Korean and Chinese dominance, at least for a brief moment. The only thing left, then, was for them to go back to home soil and continue building on their hype and momentum.
Fighting against seemingly futile regional opposition satisfied no one at that point — our eyes were set on the bigger picture: the World Championship. And to their credit, both champions went back and dominated. They fought week after week and defended what’s rightfully theirs. G2 Esports still needs to win one last Best of 5 this Sunday, but their triumph is all but a formality at this point.
And so we are left to wonder. Will history repeat itself? Will both Western champions continue their success on the international stage? Was Liquid’s win over Invictus Gaming a fluke, or was it a sign of things to come?
There are so many exceptional narratives and burning question right now, which makes the upcoming World Championship that much more exciting. This is a precedent, and it’ll surely bring fireworks.
One of the more fascinating things about Team Liquid and G2 Esports is that they’re two fantastic teams, two towering giants that play in completely diverging ways.
Liquid is macro-oriented, they play “by the book” and win through their individual leads, ample mechanical prowess, and spectacular team fighting. G2 Esports, on the other hand, revels in absolute chaos. They have been unlocked by the meta and are unrelenting in their experimentation. No matter how preposterous the team comp or strategy, they have the means to realize it. They’re five madmen who don’t mind pulling off a reverse sweep. They’d instead give their opponents three match points because otherwise what’s the point? Where’s the fun in clean 3-0 sweeps?
We’ve already seen them fight in the first-ever Western final and G2 Esports emerged victoriously. They demolished the LCS champions without breaking much of a sweat. But even though it was as one-sided as possible, it didn’t hurt Liquid’s stock much. They were entering the finals with a playstyle many deemed subpar, and yet they accomplished nearly the same thing as G2 Esports.
Going back home allowed them to rethink how they want to play the game, and even though we haven’t seen that much experimentation from the LCS champions, they surely have more than a couple of surprises hidden in their sleeves. They’re keeping their cards close to the chest, and it’s hard to blame them.
G2 Esports went back home and celebrated. They knew they had a perfect command of the meta and the game itself. But Liquid, perhaps, had something more valuable — they knew why they failed and had an example to learn from.
This is one of the main reasons why we all want to see them clash yet again. We want to know whether they grew from their seventy-minute Best of 5 loss, or if they’re inherently incapable of diversifying their arsenal.
Which brings us to yet another important matter — their biggest flaw.
For all of their success, Liquid was never known as a sophisticated, multi-layered threat. Sure, they could win through multiple lanes, but how they attained success and how they went about it never surprised anyone. They were predictable, from start to finish. While there is some variance in their play, you’ll never see Liquid go for off-the-wall strategies or fresh solo queue picks. They’ll never try to eke out an advantage through cheesy team comps or mind-blowing level one strats.
And the way they play in-game is no different.
Experimentation isn’t in their DNA, and that’s perfectly fine. They’re a known quantity, and they know that imitating what G2 Esports is doing wouldn’t yield the same results as they wouldn’t be playing to their strengths.
The thing with Team Liquid is, even though they’re relatively one-dimensional, you still have to be better at everything they’re doing if you want to win. For the majority of North American teams, that’s quite a problem. It is an insurmountable obstacle, as evidenced by Liquid’s two-year dominance.
But the international stage, however, is an entirely different story. Invictus Gaming is no longer on top of the LPL. Instead, we’re seeing FunPlus Phoenix, and fan-favorite Royal Never Give Up step to the plate. The LCK is as dangerous as ever, with SKT T1 and Griffin already booking their tickets to Europe.
Both regions want redemption and revenge. They’re not used to playing second-fiddle. To them, it is an entirely new role, and also one they don’t want to get accustomed to. The upcoming World Championship has the potential to be the most competitive one yet, and Team Liquid has the opportunity to stand shoulder to shoulder with giants of seemingly equal strength and potential.
They have the chance to solidify their spot in the pantheon of competitive League; the opportunity to erase all those years of failed attempts and crushing defeats. Will they succeed? Only time will tell, but for as long as their dominance continues, the North American dream remains alive and well.