For the second straight year, a Team Liquid roster expecting to be one of the best teams in North America and more than likely represent the region at Worlds isn’t living up to expectations in the summer split. A new head coach, new top talent yet a similar conundrum.
They’re also 5-2, tied with 100 Thieves with the second-best record. And people are still panicking about this.
An organization becoming one of the most beloved in North American due to their seemingly limitless wallets once again paid the premium for top talent in the off-season. Signing three new members to their roster with A-list name recognition, expectations weren’t just high. It was potentially the highest ever for the organization.
While coming to North America with baggage, Gabriël “Bwipo” Rau arrival to the region was seen as a massive victory. Despite finish his time with Fnatic as a jungler, a return to top lane was very much welcomed. Steven “Hans sama” Liv joined a growing list of European marksmen to make the move to North America after a statement year with Rogue in 2021. And the greatest mid laner in LCS history elected to not only come out of retirement but leave TSM to play in the mid lane for Team Liquid.
It is truly an off-season whose lore will grow with age. This was arguably Steve Arhancet and company’s greatest achievement yet. Team Liquid was living up to their partnership with Marvel. This was a super team.
But there is a common misconception with super teams: you aren’t necessarily paying for a high ceiling, you’re paying for the high floor. Team Liquid is doing nearly everything as expected as five individual players, four separate lanes.
In the summer split, three out of the five members are averaging gold leads at ten minutes thanks to their knowledge of the laning phase. Jungler Lucas “Santorin” Larsen and Jo “CoreJJ” Yong-in are the odd men out. However Santorin’s deficit often comes a result of not completing normal early game clears, prioritizing map influence versus individual success. It is no surprise that Santorin is tied with the highest deficit of creeps at ten minutes among junglers (-7.6), compounding to a -55 gold deficit at ten minutes.
Santorin also cut his hair. Not saying this could be part of the problem but I’m not not saying that it could be part of the problem.
As the game progresses, it becomes more of a team game. The sum of each individual value doesn’t necessarily add up to the sum of a team value. And Team Liquid hasn’t necessarily been the clear, better team.
Against 100 Thieves in their week 3 match-up, Team Liquid would lose control of the game during a team-fight at 26 minutes. A combination of mental errors and poor team-fighting allowed for their opponents to fight back into the game. Team Liquid would not capture another turret, another kill or another neutral objective for the rest of the game, losing what felt like a controlled victory against a top LCS team. A week prior, the team would be embarrassed by Bjergsen’s former home, with what appears to be one of the weakest teams in North America outplaying them.
It is strange.
CoreJJ has been a shell of his former self in 2022. Battling with visa complications in the spring, the team was unable to get a full split with their intended starting line-up. With the addition of vocal members like Bjergsen and Bwipo, it also may also be impacting how loud the voice of CoreJJ truly is in the game now. And for the first time since 2020 spring, he is laning without Edward “Tactical” Ra. While an improvement was brought in, Tactical and Hans sama both display much different skillsets. And when unable to get full practice or stage play in for most of the split, that can be difficult to get used to.
Speaking on Bjergsen, despite questionably earning first team All Pro honors in his return to playing, he too has been a shell of his former self. Rust in his mechanics and difficulties in the laning phase — averaging a gold deficit at ten minutes for the first time in his career in the spring split — became a “we’re not listening” point when discussing Team Liquid. It is the conversation everyone doesn’t want to have given his status and reputation. The LCS is better when Bjergsen is on the stage.
A mid-season break was going to be huge for a team to finally get into a mode to refine their problems or the “rough edges” to the team. Everything was finally accounted for, now they could just focus on League of Legends. The break didn’t necessarily accomplish that.
In victories this split, Team Liquid have done it with intentional albeit not necessarily commanding or dominate outside of their perfect game of Immortals. They have the lowest average game time in victories (29 minutes) with a 3.3 kills-to-deaths ratio (third highest). However in wins, they average the fifth highest gold different at fifteen minutes (+1248), average an 80% first turret ratio with less than stellar neutral objective control — 60% herald control rate, 40% first dragon secure rate and a 67% dragon secure rate. They appear to be in control of games but aren’t necessarily controlling of the game.
They give us moments of brilliance — the aforementioned perfect game of Immortals in week 1 — and moments of relief — their come from behind victory of FlyQuest in week 2. They’re averaging the second highest gold difference at fifteen minutes (+793), tied at the top of the table for best kill-to-death ratio (1.78). They’re playing good League of Legends. It just isn’t “super” League of Legends. That lack of met expectations complicates things.
For week 4, they’re preparing for their biggest test of the split — a match-up against Evil Geniuses on day 2. Depending on the outcome, it will likely set the narrative for the team and their remaining expectations of the split. Will it be a three horse race for first place between 100 Thieves, Evil Geniuses and Team Liquid? Will Team Liquid remove the weights and showcase their full performance? Is Team Liquid washed?
A loss may lead to panic mode for a line-up that shouldn’t have been expected three losses in their first half of the round-robin. And a win may not make things any easier, it may just continue to head-scratching around the team’s status.
That’s the beauty about team competition. As much as we want to say that having the best players on the rift matters, it truly doesn’t when it comes to competitive League of Legends. So many factors go into a performance and some of the key areas don’t necessarily align with players being individually incredible.
It is why the concern around Team Liquid feels a tad bit farfetched. Again, they’re 5-2 and likely are in a position to remain in the top three at least after this week. The two teams that appear to be ahead of them in the actual standings have both continued to improve on their team chemistry and strategy with individual skill being a secondary thought. Their signing of talent was more much specific rather than searching for general skill. And they have had the time to flesh out the problems Team Liquid is experiencing.
Team Liquid’s search for the right formula for the team may only come with time. As players continue to develop chemistry and continue to get use to new metas as a team, they may have the opportunity to reach the high expectations set out for them. However, it may just be another victim of Team Liquid moving too quickly, attempting for quick bursts of success rather than long-term growth.
Maybe, just maybe, a statement win will change the narrative. Or maybe, it still won’t be enough for fans. That’s the problem with super teams. You can’t be just ‘really good.’ You need to be super.