Coming into the Spring Split everyone had very mixed expectations for the Team Liquid roster. While their high profile signing of Kim “Reignover” Ui-jin did make waves around the community, the team then failed to live up to expectation with their other roster swaps. Being recently acquired by Pete Guber and Ted Leonsis of the esports ownership group Axiomatic, who between themselves also own the likes of Golden State Warriors, Los Angeles Dodgers, Washington Wizards, Washington Capitals, Los Angeles Football Club, Washington Mystics and Washington Valor. Along side the recent investments from Magic Johnson, one would have expected that high profile players would instantly flock the team at the sight of such a huge monetary backing. However, this was not the case.
The team rounded out their roster in an underwhelming manner. While the return of Gwang-jin “Piglet” Chae into the bottom lane was a definite upgrade over their temporary stand-ins, the replacement of Fenix was a different story entirely.
The team firstly announced that their Academy midlaner, Greyson “Goldenglue” Gilmer will be moving up into the first team as a starting player. This in itself was already a worrying sign for the Team Liquid fans. While Goldenglue, was definitely not one of the worst midlaners the team could acquire, neither was he the most exciting prospect. With little experience outside of the NACS, and few stand out performances it was clear why fans might have been skeptical of this replacement.
The team team then rounded out their roster by bringing Austin “LiNk” Shin out of retirement as their substitute midlaner.
Moving into pre-season in the late December of 2016, Team Liquid announced their participation at IEM Gyeonggi, allowing them to test out their newly established roster against the competition and the fans to see the acquired talent.
While the team did not start off with the most convincing performance, losing their first match against Giants Gaming. They did manage to come back in the losers bracket, beating both Dark Passage and Giants Gaming 2-0 and pulling all the way into the semi-finals where they lost to the dominant Korean side, Samsung Galaxy. At a first glance this run does not look half bad, especially if you consider the fact that the team only had a few days of preparations. However, if you view the games and consider what teams Team Liquid actually played against, their victories didn’t prove all that much.
Giants Gaming, while finishing 3rd in the 2016 Regular Summer Split in the EU LCS, have since lost a majority of their roster, with their new one consisting mainly of rookie players. Dark Passage could not secure a single victory in the entire tournament, the Turkish side simply didn’t have the individual talent, nor team co-ordination to compete with the other more prepared teams.
The First Weeks
The initial weeks of the spring split instantly proved to be a problem for the TL squad. With Piglet being one of the only stand out performers on the team and ADC role currently having a much lesser carry potential than in seasons prior, Team Liquid only managed to win 2 out of 6 series in the first three weeks. Reignover, the player so often praised for his decision making and shot calling ability, failed to impress and Goldenglue would often find himself in both a CS and XP deficit in the mid lane. This coupled with a lack of communication coming out of the lanes was not painting a pretty picture for the North American team. With the likes of Echo Fox and Immortals quickly improving each week and the inconsistent CLG squad being able to finally find a footing in the standings, by week 5 Team Liquid hit the bottom of the league table and were suddenly battling to stay out of relegation and in the LCS.
It was not until the end of week 5, when Team Liquid decided it was time for a change. The struggling Goldenglue decided to take a step back from the starting line-up and was replaced by the eager Piglet. Piglet’s original role before becoming an AD Carry was mid lane, hence it made sense to give this a shot and allow him to play in a lane where he had a higher carrying potential. This, however left a hole to be patched in the AD Carry role. To fix this the team decided to bring in their former Academy midlaner Young-bin “Youngbin” Jung since he has previous synergy built up with their support Matt “Matt” Elento.
This move to many fans, was at best questionable. Bringing a rookie midlaner into the ADC role while shoving their current world class ADC into the mid lane didn’t seem to make much sense. However, come week 6 of the NA LCS the people were proved wrong. While Youngbin did not perform at the level an LCS ADC should, with his arrival seemed to have also come a level comradery that we haven’t seen on the TL squad before. Piglet finally looked happier and more motivated to perform again. This was instantly visible in his play. Piglet came into his first week in mid lane prepared, playing three different picks in his first series where he managed to outshine his opposition, Eugene “Pobelter” Park and finally take a series win against the Immortals line up.
This win did not signal the end of Team Liquid’s struggles however. After d tlosing the second series of the week against Echo Fox, it was pretty clear that Youngbin was not yet prepared to play at such a high level and needed time to develop and grow. Instead, the team decided to bring in a secondary AD Carry, to step in and take the wheel, hopefully helping them to cement their place in the LCS. This AD Carry was Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng.
Cutting his “Streaming-Split” short during week 7 of the NA LCS, we saw the return of one of the current best North American players, Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng. The return of Doublelift was praised by many, getting the Team Liquid fans buzzing with excitement. Doublelift, provided the struggling team with hope, and Doublelift could have become their saviour. Praised for his unmatched laning and mechanical skill in North America, along side his risky but decisive decision making. The fans were confident that Doublelift was sure to make his mark on the team and sway them in the right direction. Coming into the next few weeks however, the opposite was the truth. While, Doublelift has definitely brought an extra level of class into the bottom lane of Team Liquid, the communication of the team still seemed in shambles. Throughout the last 3 weeks of the regular split, the team only managed to pick up 2 more series wins, beating Team Envy and TSM. This meant that for the first time, Team Liquid was heading for relegations.
Before relegations however, before the end of week 10 of the regular split even, TL decided to make one last, yet possibly one of the most important changes. The team decided to bring in a new head coach from Cloud9. Coach Jang “Cain” Nu-ri. This former coach of Cloud9 and CJ Entus has had plenty of experience both in the NA LCS and in LCK. With the lack of change coming from the swaps in player positions, it was only a question of time before the team made a change among the staff.
With so many roster swaps and no immediate change visible, the atmosphere surrounding Team Liquid and its fans was tense. Heading into the promotion tournament, no one really knew what to expect. While most did believe that Team Liquid was in no place to get relegated, there was a definite aura of doubt surrounding them throughout the entire tournament. With Gold Coin United being full of experienced players, and eUnited having a dominant run in the NACS, the tournament could sway in anyone’s favor. If Team Liquid was to win they had to prove themselves as superior in both individual skill and the macro play against both of these teams.
During their first series of the tournament against eUnited, there was an easy to observe growth in the way that the team played. While losing the first game due to eUnited being allowed to snowballl their early game advantages, Team Liquid managed to adapt to their opponents play style very quickly and run away with the next three games. Even if the team did not look very convincing in their second game victory, it was clear that they stayed calm and collected, improving with each new game. By game 3 and 4 of the series, we saw the team making very calculated movements around the map, being hardly ever caught out of position, and we saw them playing smartly around vision and core objectives. There was also a clear change in the midlane, with Piglet having two very successful games with a 6/0/4 and 7/1/3 KDA ratios.
This type of calm and collected play was arguably even more visible in their tougher victory over Gold Coin United. Winning the first two games, most people were confident in the team to take the series. However, following two games of possibly questionable drafts and plays from Team Liquid, the experienced side of GCU were able to win the next two games, making for a much tenser series than expected. Yet, even after two losses the team was able to recollect and step up to the task in the final game of the series. During this match, Team Liquid played the perfect game, giving away no kills and only 2 towers in terms of objectives. Piglet played an incredible Ahri game with a 7/0/2 KDA and the team as a whole worked incredibly well togethe, creating initiations for piglet, providing vision around the map and making the right decisions at the right time. Team Liquid without a doubt deserved to make their way back into the NA LCS.
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