What can Team Liquid do to break through at Worlds?

Liquid has the star power to go far, but just how far can they go?

Image via Riot Games

Last year was Team Liquid’s first time competing in the League of Legends World Championship. And despite coming in as the North American first seed, they failed to make it past the group stage. 

One year later, they’ve made significant changes. But is that enough to make them stand out at Worlds or will they be doomed to repeat their 2018 performance? 

Coming into 2019, Liquid’s roster received a major upgrade. The organization acquired Cloud9’s star mid laner, Nicolaj Jensen, and followed that up by adding world champion support Jo “CoreJJ” Yong-in. Jensen is a hefty step up from Pobelter, who’s struggled to hold his own in lane recently. With CoreJJ alongside Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng, the two instantly became the best bot lane in the LCS.

The team looked unbeatable and they practically were. Between the Spring and Summer Splits, they lost a total of eight games in the regular season. Additionally, they placed first in both splits, becoming the first LCS team to win four back-to-back titles. 

Photo via Riot Games

They’re undoubtedly the most dominant team North America has seen, but there’s some concern when it comes to their international capabilities. Despite having a star-studded team, Liquid have struggled in best-of-five series. Liquid narrowly beat TSM in the Spring Split finals and Cloud9 in the Summer Split finals 3-2. Additionally, Liquid almost lost to Clutch Gaming in the Summer Split semifinals, winning 3-2 once again. And Liquid had to resort to playing the Sona and Taric combination to beat Clutch. For a team that’s now known as the best North American lineup, their series haven’t actually been that dominant.  

Jensen told Dot Esports in July that “we are playing really well right now, so it’s hard for us to really improve a lot more. It’s just really up to the other teams to improve.” After both Cloud9 and Clutch brought Liquid to five games just a few weeks ago, it appears LCS teams have caught up. And now it’s time for Liquid to figure out what more they can do to improve.

The good news for Liquid is they’ve already had an outstanding international performance earlier this year at MSI. They had a decisive 3-0 victory against Phong Vũ Buffalo during the play-in stage and then went on to defeat the current world champions, Invictus Gaming, in the semifinals 3-1. Liquid were destroyed by G2 Esports in the finals, but their MSI performance proves that they have the ability to do well against international competition. If Liquid can continue performing like they did against IG, they should have no problem moving past at least the group stage at Worlds.

Photo via Riot Games

Going into Worlds, Liquid were placed into Group D along with AHQ and IG—the fourth team will be determined after the play-in stage is finished. Liquid’s strength lies within the ability of their players to consistently perform well. For the most part, Liquid have a standard playstyle. They typically follow the meta and rely on the individual power of each of their players to win games, with most of their power coming from the bot lane duo of Doublelift and CoreJJ. Liquid shouldn’t have much trouble against AHQ and IG if they can remain consistent from game to game, especially considering IG’s massive slump this year. 

The real challenge for Liquid will be moving forward if they make it past the group stage. They’ve previously had trouble against teams that are more innovative or unpredictable. Liquid’s struggle against Clutch in the LCS semifinals was in large part due to Clutch’s unbridled aggression. Liquid were constantly caught off guard and their standard playstyle couldn’t keep up. The same thing happened against G2 during MSI, except G2’s players were also individually more skilled than Liquid’s, which points to another issue Liquid might have. 

Given Liquid’s playstyle, it’ll be difficult for them to defeat teams that have stronger individual talent. SKT also typically have a standard playstyle, but it can be argued that SKT have better players. Liquid can’t expect to be a Worlds contender if they have one playstyle and weaker players. Aside from playing Sona and Taric, Liquid doesn’t have many team comp surprises—and by now, Sona and Taric is hardly a surprise. If Liquid want to go far at Worlds, they’ll have to work on their adaptability and move outside of their comfort zone.   

Liquid’s journey through Worlds will begin on Oct. 12 during the group stage. Until then, the play-in stage starts on Oct. 2.