The Evaporation of Liquid: A Story of North American Heartbreak
Team Liquid find themselves yet again out of contention for the World Championship holding the not-so-proud title of fourth best team in NA. Many saw this roster as the strongest in the region, if not one of the strongest in the West, so the question on everyone's mind is: where did it all go wrong?
A dream of spring
As the spring split of 2015 loomed, things had finally seemed to have taken shape for the Team Liquid roster. Boasting 3 veterans of the game, the All-star support, a former world champion and the ever vocal and determined IWDominate. Not to mention the growing presence in the top lane of a stoic Quas being effective on both carry and utility based champions. Around this time Co-owner Liquid112 also bolstered the support staff of the team, bringing a team manager, coach Peter Zhang and numerous analysts. All this combined with reports of Fenix showing up with impressive performances in scrims led a large group of the community to believe that 2015 could finally be the year of the former Curse organisation.
However as the events of playoffs and the gauntlet transpired, it was clear that the dream in fact could not become a reality.
Issues with pick and ban phase
I hope it goes without saying at this point, Peter was not deserving of the award of coach of the split, frankly it seemed like the award was given solely under the impression that the best team in the regular season surely must have the best coach, this coupled with Peter's popularity within the community probably swayed the overall decision making.
Throughout the split TL played host to some of the wonkiest drafts seen out of any western team during season 5, with the over prioritization of Gragas on numerous occasions and team compositions that frankly had no innate synergy- the blame has to be attributed to the coaching staff of TL. In the playoffs we saw TL quite happily surrender Azir away from Fenix, which happens to be the champion he is most proficient on. It's not like these are subtle areas of their draft that they could have improved, these were glaring flaws in the way TL approached champion select that were exploited by their opponents.
"So we've finished early game, now what?"
Given their impressive line-up, it's a fair comment that TL's early game was the strongest aspect of their play. For a North American Team they had a relatively good grasp on how to lane-swap properly and more often than not they exited the early game having established a lead over their opponents. Unfortunately it was their inability to properly push advantages generated in the laning phase that ultimately lead to their incompetence in closing out games on a consistent basis.
The game which fully highlights TL's inability to close out has to be the best of one versus Team Impulse which caused the tie breaker for 1st place with CLG. An hour long epic which saw Team Liquid amass a 7K gold lead before taking a poor fight over pushing an inhibitor tower. Admittedly they went on to win that game, but it was an uphill struggle at the best of times. They never really seemed to know when to properly orchestrate teamfights and often engaged on the basis of blind aggression without proper thought applied to the consequences.
A case for Peter
As I mentioned previously, TL often times engaged fights purely on the fly without proper vision control or wave management. It's interesting to note that the team Peter coached prior to joining TL was the former all-Chinese lineup of LMQ, who adopted the 'see hero-kill hero' mindset in every element of their play. Now I'm not disregarding Peter's other weaknesses in terms of pick and ban, but perhaps he was coaching toward a similar brand of hyper aggression with Team Liquid judging by the way they sometimes decided to teamfight. The critical difference between the two teams being that LMQ were superb at teamfighting whereas TL openly struggled with that area of their play.
LMQ played to their strengths when they decided to adopt an aggressive style whereas with TL they didn't have any obvious strengths outside of the laning phase. It's a possibility that with these specific five players, Peter's style of coaching was ineffective and it was a case of him being a bad fit for the team.
Five players, but not a team
I think Robert Baratheon phrased it best when he asked Cersei Lannister "Which is the bigger number - five or one?" In terms of Game of Thrones and competitive League of Legends, one is always the bigger number. One team, a real team, united
behind one leader and with one purpose. With Team Liquid you never got any of those elements. You never got the sense that at any point during the time that they played together that they were ever an actual team. The evidence primarily being their lack of in-game co-ordination and poor teamfighting.
With rumors flying around that the roster has 'exploded' I think they'll never quite have the same opportunity to win as a five ever again. The ingredients for success were there in the very roster of TL, but they could never quite convert that potential into a domestic victory.
It goes to show that you can have some of the best ingredients available to you, but if you don't know how to combine them properly, you'll always fall flat.
Cartoon Peter: http://www.teamliquidpro.com/
TL wallpaper: https://www.behance.net/gallery/23718343/Team-Liquid-Esports-Wallpapers