Putting together the puzzle: Team Liquid’s rocky return to the Worlds stage

The final string that held Crew Liquid collectively broke. The multi-time LCS champion crew dedicated tens of millions of {dollars} this previous November, signing two high-profile free brokers and renewing its mid laner to one of many largest extensions within the league—and now, it seemed all for naught. 

It had already been a tough June for Liquid. A kind of stars, high laner Alphari, obtained benched amid behavioral points early within the month, and the opposite, Santorin, performed by means of debilitating migraines and wanted time to get better. But there was another unexpected change that struck the crew: Jatt—the commentator-turned-head coach who’d simply celebrated his first anniversary with the crew—resigned. Kold, the crew’s assistant coach, would take over with a altering roster and Liquid’s possibilities at a world championship bid slimming by the day.

At this level within the season, the crew was not the lineup that began 2021, nor was it the crew that will finish the 12 months. Kold was coming into uncharted territory, and there was solely a lot he may do to place collectively an ever-changing roster of expertise—and with little preparation, at that. Liquid trudged by means of the remaining six weeks of the Summer time Cut up with Kold on the helm and the load of their losses on their shoulders. When playoffs got here round, the crew was lastly pieced again collectively. Their confidence had been resparked, evident of their playoffs run. Liquid knocked down LCS behemoths left and proper, advancing to the finals with ease. They’d already secured a Worlds spot, and a trophy right here would show how far they got here.

Then they crashed once more, shedding the title in a clear sweep by 100 Thieves. And so they’ve been silent since.

This 12 months has been nothing wanting a wild experience for Liquid in skilled League of Legends. Simply when the crew’s League squad thought that they had secured a second to shine, they abruptly entered a predicament that set the crew again weeks, arguably even years. And this wasn’t only a one-time deal—it occurred on a number of events in mere months. Although they might be gracing the Worlds stage as soon as extra, the highway it took them to get so far was rocky, and extra obstacles are imminent.

A stable begin and shock jungle swap

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This 12 months’s LCS format launched a brand new manner for gamers to regulate to the season by means of the Lock-In match. Whereas the competitors was designed to slowly introduce new and returning gamers to the stage, Liquid made it clear their drive from Worlds 2020 had not been diminished, racing by means of the match and successful it with new faces in Alphari and Santorin.

Sport after sport, Liquid’s new high laner and jungler showcased a synergy at a degree the LCS had by no means seen earlier than. Liquid turned the crew the LCS was fixated on as soon as extra, with Alphari and Santorin touted because the faces of the group’s skilled League crew.

But, simply as they started to shine, Liquid approached the unavoidable. On the 2021 Mid-Season Invitational, Santorin introduced he would be playing sparingly due to health issues. It was solely a matter of time earlier than Santorin needed to step out {of professional} play for the instant future, bringing Armao into the primary roster and forcing the remainder of the squad to regulate to a brand new jungler with little main-stage expertise.

The crew remained afloat. There have been large footwear to fill, however as the main target of Liquid shifted from getting the highest facet of the map forward to conserving eyes on Tactical and CoreJJ within the bot lane, Liquid slowly started to regulate to a brand new, unseen technique.

Summertime disappointment

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Liquid didn’t win the Spring Cut up, thus lacking this 12 months’s MSI. Between March and June, when the Summer time Cut up would start, the crew remained on the sidelines whereas Cloud9 dominated all LCS-focused conversations. But Cloud9, too, struggled to maintain their momentum afloat.

After just one sport into the Summer time Cut up, Liquid unexpectedly announced that Alphari would be taking personal time off from the team with none clear rationalization as to why he was leaving. Santorin left as soon as once more in the course of the third week of the Summer time Cut up to concentrate on his well being, leaving Armao because the beginning jungler. Now each of Liquid’s latest stars had been out, and their Academy crew was compelled to step up.

Followers shortly entered hypothesis mode. Alphari, who in mere months had cemented himself as one of the crucial dominant high laners within the LCS, didn’t appear to be the rationale why Liquid misplaced their debut sport of the cut up to TSM. However in a video posted to Twitter, Liquid’s head coach Jatt knowledgeable followers that Jenkins, Liquid’s Academy high laner, could be coming into the fray instead of Alphari for the weekend. This change ended up lasting for greater than a month and compelled the crew to regulate to yet one more new playstyle.

Then, simply when it appeared Liquid had discovered their footing once more, Jatt resigned. Liquid had been down three of their most outstanding faces, with little rationalization given for 2. Alphari’s weeks of cryptic tweets made it seem to be there was animosity between the highest laner and former head coach, and deleting them quickly after posting solely fueled the hearth. To this present day, followers stay unsure as to what prompted these modifications. 

Winter is coming

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In Jatt’s place got here Liquid’s strategic coach, Kold, who had joined the crew from his years of EU expertise final November. After years competing within the EU LCS, Kold took the helm of one among NA’s most celebrated groups with little time to organize and just a few months of teaching expertise below his belt.

“It was a kind of conditions the place somebody needed to step up and take the management head-on, and after [Jatt] resigned, there was nobody higher to do it than me,” Kold informed Dot Esports. “I’m a really aggressive man, and after I see a scenario the place somebody must step up and take duty, then I’ll accomplish that as a result of it’s in the most effective curiosity of the crew.”

Kold’s entrance as Liquid’s new coach was instantly met with doubt from followers, who had witnessed change after change plague the roster on what gave the impression to be a weekly foundation. But as an alternative of accruing extra losses, Liquid started to leap again on par with the place they had been within the Spring, with Kold leading the team to a dominant victory in his coaching debut.

Liquid shortly reestablished a momentum the crew had lengthy been identified for, seemingly placing apart lingering controversies to regain focus of what mattered most: being the most effective crew in NA. Although Kold made it clear he was right here to fill Jatt’s footwear and additional stretch the crew’s potential, he acknowledged it was an “sudden problem to be thrown into this case.” The following step was the LCS Championship, and the crew seemed ready.

Then they misplaced 0-3 to 100 Thieves within the finals. The arrogance that Liquid had expressed all through everything of the LCS Championship as much as this second made it appear that another best-of-five towards 100T would merely be a repeat of the 3-2 Liquid had gained only a few matches prior. The Liquid squad had shifted their dynamic from sustaining a result in partaking in questionable trades, turret dives, and overextensions that, in every sport, supplied 100T clear room to do what Liquid couldn’t.

A lot of the eye on this collection shifted to Liquid’s mid lane, the place that they had lengthy been capable of capitalize essentially the most out of another lane. Jensen struggled towards each champion that Abbedagge dropped at the Rift, regardless of accessing consolation picks like Syndra and LeBlanc. As Jensen slowly fell behind in every sport, so did a lot of the remainder of his crew, who clearly hoped the multi-time champion mid laner could be their saving grace.

The longest sport on this three-game collection went solely to half-hour and 35 seconds. Liquid suffered uncharacteristic deficits throughout the map in every sport, with solely Alphari being an element within the crew’s potential survival. This was not the Liquid that had gone from the fifth seed to enter the LCS Championship to the primary crew to qualify for the finals, however there was no clear reply as to what went flawed.

Liquid had been now left twiddling their thumbs, with the world questioning what had occurred to the crew that had simply spent the previous couple of weeks making up for fixed roster shifts. Worlds was just a few weeks away.

“It’s kinda like a giant heartbreak, in a way. That you just put a lot into it,” Kold stated. “Nobody remembers the second place, let’s be actual. Folks bear in mind the groups that lifted the trophy. It’s all the time gonna really feel like shit shedding in a ultimate—I’ve been there myself, twice.”

Regardless of the loss, Kold and the crew needed to elevate their heads and understand this was simply the beginning of one other large step for Liquid.

Are their Worlds possibilities nonetheless alive?

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Liquid’s downward spiral can’t be attributed to any single participant, nor can it solely be attributed to exterior circumstances. For months they’ve been compelled to regulate to shifts of their roster, administration, and even the final meta, leaving little room to create secure footing.

Liquid visited the World Championship on three separate events, the place the group carried out comparatively equally regardless of varied iterations of their roster. Every time, the squad took down a number of the most dominant competitors from the LCK and LPL, but struggled to make it out of the group stage.

This 12 months’s model of Liquid appears completely different, nevertheless. Between gamers and administration, now we have but to see how this iteration of the crew performs in worldwide competitors. Though the crew nonetheless has their LCS Championship loss behind their minds, Kold believes there’s greater than sufficient purpose to stay up for the probabilities of their instant future.

“It’s in regards to the productiveness of the 4 weeks, and it’s crucial inside this time to have the mindset that we’re right here to develop,” Kold stated. “We’re right here to be taught, we’re right here to get essentially the most out of daily in order that the product you showcase beginning group stage is the absolute best product which you can obtain. Proper now that’s our focus, and in a couple of weeks we are going to see if that product is sweet sufficient.”

What can we anticipate at Worlds this 12 months?

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All through all the turmoil this iteration of the Liquid roster has gone by means of, they’ve continued to combat till the bitter finish. They could not have completed the season on the most effective phrases, however Liquid has the potential to exceed expectations at Worlds.

Out of the three groups representing the LCS at Worlds, Liquid possesses essentially the most well-rounded group of expertise. Whereas C9 and 100T as organizations additionally boast earlier Worlds expertise, it has been Liquid which have persistently stepped up on the worldwide stage and acted as essentially the most formidable competitors from the LCS.

Liquid have a synergy that extends removed from merely two laners understanding how the opposite ticks. The map-wide consciousness that Alphari, Santorin, Jensen, Tactical, and CoreJJ possess has time and time once more positioned them on the favorable facet of seemingly unfavorable conditions. This 12 months, Liquid confirmed that after they take management of a sport, they nearly all the time preserve management—one thing different NA groups typically battle to do. 

But within the ultimate weeks, there appears to have been a shift in who precisely Liquid depends on to hold their video games. Relatively than provide the variability relying on lane matchups, Jensen has turn out to be more and more vital in dragging his teammates out of sticky conditions. Notably within the LCS Championship, if Santorin and CoreJJ stored Jensen forward, their win quickly adopted. When groups started to understand this emphasis on a Jensen carry, although, Liquid slipped.

Groups like RNG and FPX, like a lot of the different powerhouses from the East, are going to proceed to be obvious points for the Liquid roster after they return to Worlds this 12 months. The understanding of the meta in these areas specifically differs drastically from what Liquid is used to in NA, making it tough for them to learn their opponents after they first enter the worldwide setting. 

Fortunately for Liquid, this won’t apply an excessive amount of this 12 months. With Riot’s try to higher diversify the Worlds meta, groups internationally are nonetheless discovering what methods work, with the group stage being the place the meta will actually be outlined. A unstable meta could also be precisely what Liquid wants to position this “king of the hill” playstyle behind them and take a look at rekindling that teamwide synergy they’ve lengthy been identified for.

Consolation picks have lengthy labored for Liquid relating to shifting metas, notably these within the mid and high lane the place the carry potential is excessive. Picks akin to Syndra and Orianna for Jensen or Gnar and Gangplank for Alphari have lengthy introduced Liquid success. However this meta provides much more selection in champion swimming pools for these gamers, and it could possibly be the shift Liquid wants to boost their return to the worldwide stage.

With the stacked expertise headed to Worlds this 12 months, Liquid are tormented by their efficiency within the LCS Championship finals. If they’ll’t discover their footing when the group stage kicks off, they is likely to be despatched dwelling earlier than their Worlds journey may even start. | Placing collectively the puzzle: Crew Liquid’s rocky return to the Worlds stage


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