Steve Arhancet was placed in front of the camera. From one angle, it appeared as if he was sitting. From the other, it appeared as if he was standing. This detail has no additional meaning or context, just an author’s note on the video.
Arhancet had yet to discuss the state of his League of Legends lineup.
The roster that was constructed to not only make it to the World Championship, not only was expected to be competitive at an international stage, but they were also meant to do it with ease. Yet, here they were, unable to do so. The team would finish third in the Spring Playoffs, unable to represent North America at MSI. And the team would finish fourth in the LCS Championship, unable to represent North America at Worlds.
It has been described by some as “unacceptable” or “unbelievable.” To the Team Liquid fan that I call my partner, she preferred the good old fashioned “f***ing bullsh**.” It was that kind of season for fans.
For Arhancet, it was even worse. It was one of the largest — if not the largest — bankrolls in western League of Legends history. The financial commitment from investors and sponsors was based on his word and his expectations. I mean, how in the world could this lineup miss worlds?! Not only did this line-up disappoint fans, but it also disappointed the people that were putting money in the player’s pockets, the people keeping the lights on.
That pressure was sinking in.
Donning a navy blue Team Liquid hat and a white shirt with the same logo on his left pectoral muscle, he would push through the four-minute video. He started hands crossed, rubbing his right forearm for comfort, soothing him through the opening moments. And as time passed, a smile would occasionally make an appearance. But the face of a man that just faced investors still crept in.
He knew it was going to be a long offseason.
Team Liquid has not been the best organization in the LCS for some time. The argument could be made that Team Liquid has never been the best LCS organization at any point in time.
This isn’t to say that they haven’t been the best team or that they haven’t been successful. Four straight Worlds appearances (2017-2021), four domestic titles, a second-place finish (and arguably the greatest LCS lineup) at MSI 2019, all are amazing accomplishments.
But at what cost?
The team has been involved with its fair share of controversy. Their release of a documentary showing organizational dysfunction back in 2016 remains one of the biggest head-scratchers to this date. In 2020, star marksman Peter “Doublelift” Peng would infamously “check out” of the spring season, turning into his departure. Just over a year ago, Joshua “Jatt” Leesman would resign mid-split following his benching of Barney “Alphari” Morris. And that situation got even better as Alphari would voice his frustrations with the situation on social media. And just this offseason, the team would move on from Nicolaj “Jensen” Jensen after teasing the possibility of him role-swapping with their acquisition of Søren “Bjergsen” Bjerg.
A lot has gone down.
The talent has seemingly trumped all dysfunction. Winning fixes everything. It helped fans forget the “fourth place” days, and helped them forget the issue.
But when the offseason would come around, they would mostly start over. Most of the time, the conversation would be around Team Liquid moving on to “bigger and better things.” Yet they were never in a position to “run it back.” They weren’t strategically gifted, they weren’t necessarily cohesive lineups. Team Liquid lineups were just good and there was this need to be better.
Team Liquid is expected to do multiple things differently this offseason.
This time around, they won’t be in contention for the top names, won’t be the team that finds themselves at the top of the table with the highest bankroll. It isn’t to say that the team isn’t looking to keep some of their star-studded players, they’re just going to be more fiscally responsible. Esports as a whole could learn a thing or two from this methodology.
But Team Liquid doesn’t really have this experience.
TL does have the best farm system in the LCS with Sean “Yeon” Sung arguably being the top prospect in academy. No eyes would be batted if Harry “Haeri” Kang, Bill “Eyla” Nguyen or Bradley “Bradley” Benneyworth were named to a LCS lineup next year. And even Jonathan “Armao” Armao continues to be performing while also being acknowledged as a veteran of the scene.
But the promotion from Academy to LCS can be an arduous journey. One of the biggest examples last season was the complicated usage and development of Shane Kenneth “Kenvi” Espinoza on Immortals in his first split in the LCS.
It is why a support staff is very important. It is also why it is important to reference Team Liquid’s difficulties in this area.
For example, they called upon André “Guilhoto” Pereira Guilhoto to lead their super team lineup in 2022. Previously coaching current TL assistant coach Jonas “Kold” Andersen, the two were reunited. Guilhoto’s career has been a rollercoaster. With every bright moment in his history — 2018 Summer Schalke 04, 2019 Spring Origen, there have been disastrous moments. The collapses of his teams are difficult to forget: 2020 Summer Origen, the failure to make worlds in 2019 Summer, 2019 Summer Origen.
He has an amazing developmental pedigree but when things go wrong, they go horribly wrong. This is why it was fascinating that he was brought in to manage a super team in the first place — especially with the potential egos that come with a super team lineup.
TL knows this is going to be a very difficult offseason.
That’s the beauty of being a fan of front office decision-making. In the next four months, we likely will see a dramatic new look from TL. Will it be heavy on academy players? Will it be heavy on unknown players? Will there be a completely new front office? Will Steve somehow manage to get a large bankroll once again? All of this is unknown at the moment.
It will be fascinating to see what Steve Arhancet comes up with. He has not had the best track record when it comes to decision-making. While incredibly professional and the standard for how an esports executive should present themselves, there are also moments that get forgotten. The errors, the prospects that don’t quite live up to their expectations.
With a cheaper lineup, while those errors cost less, the damage feels much larger. The reputation, the prestige.
Team Liquid haven’t hit the ground just yet but they can finally see what the ground looks like after being above the clouds for so long. An organization that seemingly felt untouchable is now dealing with the reality that the LCS is much better than it once was. That money can’t buy them wins forever.
And unfortunately for them, their likely won’t be an easy fix. That the talent they have in their academy can’t solve the problem. And that’s what separates the good organizations from the great.
We’ll find out if Team Liquid are just good or if they are truly great.