Sep 14 2015 - 7:46 pm
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To Be Continued: Team Liquid

My latest piece in the To Be Continued series. An overview of Team Liquid's season, their issues, and the necessary steps for future improvement
Dot Esports
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Earlier this year, Team Liquid endured a tumultuous regular split in LCS spring. The team faced several difficulties including Piglet’s visa delay, his subsequent benching due to attitude issues, Fenix’s inexperience in his new midlane role, as well as problems regarding drafting and in-game decision-making. A super team in some sense – comprised of veterans, high mechanical players, and a former OGN and World Champion – Team Liquid was failing to meet expectations. 

However, the team’s atmosphere suddenly changed for the better. Fenix began displaying signs of his raw ability on stage and Piglet cleared his own personal issues within the team. The squad was able to rally towards the end of the split, winning a tiebreaker against Team 8 to secure the 6th and last spot for playoffs. Team Liquid eventually placed 3rd – the organization's highest placed playoff finish. Liquid112’s investments seemed to be paying off. The rough start was over. The team could now focus on achieving what they have never accomplished before: winning a seed for Worlds.

But, after a first place regular split finish in the summer – a record for the organization – the team succumbed to both an on-form TSM in the playoff semi-finals, as well as a resurging Cloud9 in the gauntlet. Once more, Team Liquid was on the cusp of making it to Worlds – and once more Team Liquid fell short. 

What became apparent were the flaws in the way Liquid was structured, which involved team dynamic, in-game strategy, and an inefficient support structure.

Resources: Mismanagement of Gold Distribution

Team Liquid’s first problem was resource distribution. Season 5 has been dominated by a top lane meta. This does not necessarily mean that the top laner has to pick a carry champion (e.g. Fizz). Additionally, it does not mean that the top laner should consume the most resources on the team. Instead, the top lane meta requires a sizeable portion of resources to be funneled onto the top laner in order to have him impact the game through split pushing and/or team fighting. Furthermore, teleport flanking has become a very important initiation tool that can swing fights at any part of the game. Having a stronger top laner in these instances makes a bigger difference.

With the top lane meta in mind, here is a quick look at the average share of Team Liquid’s total gold earned:

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Without context, these numbers don’t mean much. What the numbers do tell us is that Fenix and Piglet share 7.6% and 6.5% more of the team’s gold than Quas. Another observation is that Quas only shares 1% more of the team’s gold than his jungler IWillDominate. This suggests that Quas is receiving almost as much gold as his jungler and nowhere near as much as his carries. 

Now let’s add some context. The graph below compares Team Liquid’s Gold Share against CLG, the top 3 EULCS teams, and the top 3 LCK teams. The notion here is that the categories being compared to consist of teams qualified for Worlds and play toward the strength of their top laner (e.g. CLG with ZionSpartan; EULCS with Huni, Odoamne, and Soaz; LCK with Marin, Smeb, and Ssumday).

 altNote: LPL data unavailable.

As shown, every other team (excluding TSM) allocates more gold to their top laner compared to Team Liquid. In CLG, ZionSpartan has 20.1% gold share. Additionally, top laners receive even more of the team’s gold share in the top 3 EULCS teams (21%) and the top 3 LCK teams (23%). The major difference between Liquid and the other three categories is not in the carry positions (midlane and ADC), but in the jungle position. On average, IWillDominate collects almost 2% more of his teams’ gold than any jungler in the other categories.

Effectively, Team Liquid has not been sacrificing the top laner to provide more gold for their carries, but, instead, have been funneling extra gold onto their jungler. If IWillDominate was a carry style jungler, similar to Rush, Team Liquid’s gold distribution could be justified. However, IWillDominate has mostly played utility/tank junglers like Rek’Sai, Gragas and Elise, so that argument does not stand.

More importantly, the team has Quas, touted as one of the best top laners in North America, at their disposal. Yet, Team Liquid was not able to utilize one of their best players to their complete advantage. This is especially disappointing when taking into account, once again, that this season has been dominated by the top lane meta.

Team Liquid’s mismanagement of in-game resources was a small, yet crucial error that should have been addressed earlier – failure to do so contributed to a poor season.

Leads: Head Start, Poor Finish

When you envision the strengths of Team Liquid’s roster, you often think of their high mechanical skill and strong early game. The latter was certainly the case during the season. In the regular split, Team Liquid was statistically the best early game team in terms of gold leads, averaging 1069 gold at 15 minutes. However, one critical aspect of Team Liquid’s poor in-game strategy is their propensity to lose gold leads (1, 2). This is more evident once you examine Team Liquid’s games against the other top 4 teams in the regular split, including their games in playoffs and regionals (The theory here is to look solely at Team Liquid’s performances versus the top teams in NA).

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21 is the total number of games Team Liquid has played versus the other top 4 ranked NA teams in addition to the playoff and gauntlet games. Team Liquid obtained a gold lead in 15 of those games, but still lost 40% of their 15 wins with an early gold lead (average gold lead at 15 minutes = 1115 gold in losses). These numbers further support the notion that Team Liquid is prone to losing games even with a considerable gold lead. Additionally, these stats do not account won games in which Team Liquid had trouble closing out or had lost substantial gold advantages (e.g. Team Impulse Week 10 Day 2).

This suggests a consistent pattern in Team Liquid that may have been a result of poor communication, shot calling issues, impulsive decision-making, or all of the above. If a supposed “top” team is unable to consistently close out games with a gold lead and the team shows no improvement in this facet over a whole season, the problem must be either that 1. The players on the roster cannot learn to communicate or shot call at a high level or 2. The coaching staff does not possess the toolkit to teach and develop players in this area. This is an issue that only individuals within the organization can pinpoint, but it is a crucial factor that must be resolved.

Infrastructure: Right Plan, Wrong Parts

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As an organization, Team Liquid’s infrastructure has a hierarchical system in place that is most akin to traditional sports (manager, head coach, head analyst, team of analysts, etc.). While this is a great system that can breed efficiency, it depends on having a proficient employee on each structural level. During the hiring process, a needs-based assessment is required to see what sort of personnel makes the most sense for the team. When looking at Team Liquid’s roster, the team consists of several veterans, including a former OGN and Worlds Champion who is known for his tempestuous attitude and a jungler that is emotional and passionate.

When appointing a head coach for this roster, a strong mature figure with coaching experience is needed to lead the players. Peter may have spectacular game knowledge (drafting evidence may suggest otherwise), but at his young age, his inexperience makes it very difficult to command the respect of every member on the team, especially Piglet, who is not easily coachable

Peter can still be of value on the team, but only if he is moved to a position similar to Zikz on CLG. Team Liquid can then bring on an individual like CLG’s BlurredLimes that can work in tandem with analysts in order to maximize performance. Team Liquid already has the correct structure in place; it only needs the right parts on each level to optimize efficiency.

 To Be Continued

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When Team Liquid’s roster was formed, it was formed with the intention of becoming the best team in North America. On paper, the roster could be argued as the best in the region. Many predicted the team to undoubtedly make Worlds. However, poor forethought and lack of in-and-out game planning from both management and players resulted in a disheartening end to a season. Additionally, the team’s failure to qualify for Worlds will have undoubtedly shattered the faith and respect the team has in each other, and in the coaching staff.

Moving forward, Team Liquid should build off of the hierarchical system already in place, by imitating CLG’s support staff model by appointing a capable head coach that can efficiently provide both leadership and team management alongside a strategic coach.  Peter has already stated his intention to leave his position as a head coach and assume a smaller role within the organization. Team Liquid have also announced their  job listing for a new head coach. The requirements listed communicate the right idea of what is needed to be a coach at the highest level of competition. 

In addition, the strain among Team Liquid members means this roster can no longer continue with the same five individuals. Therefore, the management must decide which players are worth keeping and how the team needs to be rebuilt. Should the focus be on creating a team around Piglet and Fenix? Does Piglet want to stay? Should the team focus on Quas as a primary or secondary carry? These are questions that depend on players’ future plans, available players on the market, and the team dynamic the organization wishes to construct for Season 6.

Team Liquid already has the resources and the base structure needed to create the best team in North America. To be the best, however, forethought, teambuilding, and leadership are essential. Ultimately, you can have the perfect plan with all the resources, but it is the correct execution that matters.

 

My name is Naser 'Empyre' Al-Naqi. This is the latest piece of my To Be Continued series where I review a team's split, their strengths, weaknesses, and how the organization can improve moving forward. If you have any comments or questions about this article feel free to tweet me on twitter.

Stats provided by OraclesElixir.com. Photos provided by lolesports.com

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