Team Liquid mid laner Nicolaj Jensen furrows his brow. He’s thinking about where his team will place in the upcoming World Championship since their appearance is all but guaranteed. He checks off the major regions one by one: In Europe, G2 Esports are the only real threat. From China and Korea, there are one, maybe two, teams that could hope to challenge Liquid.
Jensen prefaces his rankings by saying Liquid haven’t faced off against an Eastern team since the Mid-Season Invitational, so he’s unsure of their relative strength. But he’s pretty sure of where they rank.
“We match up pretty well against the other top teams in other regions right now, so I’d probably place us somewhere in the top four,” Jensen told Dot Esports.
Jensen’s faith in his team is well-founded. Liquid are on the verge of making history in North America and becoming the first team to take home the trophy four splits in a row. Two best-of-five series stand between them and the title, and Jensen wants to carry his team to the finish line.
Jensen said he’s feeling less pressure to win than he did during the spring since he finally earned his first championship and now he’s more comfortable with Liquid.
This reduced pressure will help him play “more calmly,” though he hesitates to guarantee his team’s victory, only saying that they should “win in theory.”
“When I first joined the team, everyone was like, ‘Woah, this is a superstar team,’” Jensen said. “If Liquid didn’t win, it would be seen as a massive failure, especially on my part because I came in and I’ve never won anything before… Everyone is expecting us to win, and we’re looking like the best team right now.”
Part of his hesitation comes from challenges by TSM and Cloud9, Jensen’s former squad. While TSM had a poor regular season, Jensen acknowledges that they’ve historically performed better during the playoffs. He knows this is “probably the worst [TSM] have looked going into playoffs,” but he says he respects the team, especially star mid laner Søren “Bjergsen” Bjerg, too much to count them out just yet.
The team he’s more worried about is the one he’s most familiar with, Cloud9. Featuring a legitimate seven-man roster, Cloud9 have the flexibility and talent to compete with anyone. In the final week of the regular season, the team surged past a dominant CLG squad to take second in the regular split and secure a playoff bye. In part due to this late-season run by Cloud9, Jensen believes they’ll be a stronger opponent than CLG. In fact, he sees them as Liquid’s “only threat right now.”
He’s confident that his team will “smash” CLG if they meet during the playoffs due to their “easily exploitable” style, whereas he says Cloud9 are “strong at all points in the game.”
“I think C9 has looked pretty good,” Jensen said. “Obviously [CLG] are not a bad team, just when I watch CLG play I don’t get the same feeling as I do when I watch C9 play. CLG is good at teamfighting, but they’re lacking in a lot of areas that C9 is good at.”
Another more personal obstacle for Jensen came up just recently. Less than a week ago, Jensen admitted to having serious wrist pain, which, if left untreated, could leave him unable to play League again.
Jensen knows the risks of overworking and damaging his wrists, so he says he’s been taking time off from practice and scrims in order to rest his wrists and prevent further injury. Laughing, he says he can barely stand to be in front of his computer now since he wants to avoid using a mouse or keyboard as much as possible.
He says the team has also been working around him. While Liquid would normally scrim more going into the playoffs, the squad will be taking two off-days a week (instead of the normal one) to give Jensen more rest. In addition, Academy player David “Insanity” Challe will be stepping in for Jensen during practices.
“The amount of practice I can get is very limited right now, so it’ll be different this time around,” Jensen said. “My wrists are not going to be healed in time for playoffs, so it sucks, but it’s just something that we’re going to have to deal with. If we’re lucky, I can play a bit more because right now I can barely play League.”
Despite this, Jensen remains sure that Liquid will be “the best team” by the time the World Championship rolls around, and part of his current recovery process is meant to enable him to be “in 100 percent condition” for the tournament.
While other teams may be focusing solely on the playoffs right now, Jensen says Liquid have been looking toward Worlds ever since their loss to G2 during the finals of MSI. He says the players and coaching staff had “long talks” about how they could improve, whether it be from an individual or team-wide perspective.
“It’s the goal for every team to want to win Worlds, but for us it’s a realistic goal,” Jensen said. “We had long talks about different points we want to change moving forward and what we think is required going forward… Everything we play for is with the goal of winning Worlds in mind.”
Jensen is supremely confident in his team, and for good reason. Poised to make history by being the first team in the LCS to win four splits in a row, Liquid are looking dominant domestically and have the international results to prove they’re more of a contender than a pretender.