On April 4 2015, two storylines clashed after enduring an entire season’s worth of critique and more than enough attention in the spotlight. Counter Logic Gaming faced head-to-head with Team Liquid in a best of five series for the right to proceed to the semifinals of the North American LCS Playoffs of the Spring Split.
Every team enters each split and season with a refreshed and renewed attitude, determined not to let the past repeat itself. To be better than they were before. While determination and grit are a necessary mentality, neither CLG nor TL have realized that if they were to look in the mirror, they’d see the spitting image of old King Sisyphus from Greek Mythology.
Sisyphus was a clever man who tried to cheat death multiple times. In short, Zeus punished him for his hubris to eternally push a magically rigged boulder up a steep hill. Whenever the boulder reached the top, it would plunge to the bottom, and he’d have to push the boulder back up all over again.
Everyone familiar with these two teams knows the usual results that have plagued them for seasons past. CLG’s potential will always shine as bright as a fresh egg during the regular season split. At least until it drops on the kitchen floor, leaving behind shattered dreams and a line chef being scolded.
Team Liquid, formerly known as Team Curse, is known for finishing fourth place in the league. With a new brand, came a new hope especially with the acquisition of Chae “Piglet” Gwang-jin, the former AD Carry of the 2013 World Championship team, SK Telecom T1 K.
These recurring problems for both CLG and Liquid are their boulders, except there’s no magic trick to them other than the hubris that pushes them into falling for the same thing every season. Take a step back from the specific details of this best of 5 series and look at the dynamics of these teams in how they wanted to solve their problems.
‘Golden Age’ or ‘Gilded Age’?
CLG’s acquisition of Darshan “ZionSpartan” Upadhyaya and Jake “Xmithie” Puchero brought the glimmer back to fans’ eyes after the traumatizing calamity that was the former roster. CLG’s previous top and jungle, included Shin “Seraph” Woo-yeong and Marcel “dexter” Feldkamp who dominated the regular season with their trademark “rotations” but crashed and burned dramatically in the 2014 Season Summer Playoffs even after their bootcamp in Korea.
CLG owner George “HotshotGG” Georgallidis made a promise after that roster failed that it wouldn’t happen again, and change would come. With all the players on this new roster already knowing each other and being on good terms, CLG felt confident in claiming that the Golden Age was coming. Hai “Hai” Lam, the mid laner and captain of Cloud9, claimed in an interview with Travis Gafford that CLG were dominating scrims, and looked like the best team in North America.
Link also said early on in the season that they’d push through with the power of friendship, and for 10 long weeks of the regular split, CLG sat in the top two or three spots of the league. Early game dominance especially with the help of Zaqueri “Aphromoo” Black dictated the flow of teamfights for CLG, and they gave former CLG fans hope that they’d finally give the performance they were supposed to– that is, until Austin “Link” Shin choked in the first game they played against TSM and misplayed on Lissandra.
Fans said that CLG would choke again come playoffs and that they’d would have to work harder to not be disappointing again. In truth, as the weeks went by it became painfully obvious that the Golden Age was really just another Gilded Age in North America.The gold paint started chipping away, revealing that CLG’s colossal problem; they were bad at team fighting, especially if Aphromoo wasn’t on a playmaking champion. Information wasn’t being transmitted smoothly, which led to sloppy engages and crowd control that was inconsistently chained. This problem was covered in cheap paint as CLG would win teamfights from having gold leads in the early game where they excelled compared to the majority of NA LCS teams.
Why fix a problem they’re not being pressured to fix when they can win games if they just play the way they usually play? There’s no urgency to fix all of your problems when you sit complacently near the top, especially if that can get you to Worlds.
Turmoil within the Liquid Household
The problems that plagued Liquid were so exposed it seems unlikely that no one was unaware of them. Piglet silenced a lot of critics after 3-0’ing CLG,but their test isn’t over yet, and the boulder can still fall back to the bottom. Team Liquid suffers from an identity problem with their roster as a result of the continued swapping of Piglet and Yuri “KEITHMCBRIEF” Jew.
Piglet was originally benched halfway through the season because of issues of getting along with the team ranging from bad practice habits to toxicity in scrims. Piglet even admits that he’s an incredibly prideful person which can be hard to get along with.
The personality problems with Piglet have seemingly been fixed since the team welcomed him back a few weeks later. However, they have since then looked lost in the regular season with criticisms thrown– not at Piglet, but at Diego “Quas” Ruiz, Christian “IWillDominate” Rivera and Kim “Fenix” Jae-hoon.
All three of them had more than one game where they played considerably weaker in the early game compared to any game that was played with KEITHMCBRIEF on multiple fronts. TL has this unfortunate problem where even if one solution is found, a few more pop up which suggests that, especially due to a shorter league in the 2015 season, they’re unable to look past the surface and figure out what’s really holding them back each split.
During the early weeks of the season, Head Coach Zhang originally told Dominate to sacrifice himself for the rest of the team. HTC broadcasted the conversation for fans on the first episode of Team Liquid: Rebirth. They were close to reducing Dominate, the unsung hero of Team Liquid, to a human warding system. Thankfully, that doesn’t seem to be the case anymore, as shown in the last week of the LCS regular season and especially in the series against CLG. However, it cannot be overlooked that Liquid still needs to solidify an identity if they want to avoid a fourth place finish. They need to continuously understand themselves as a team which means overcoming any language barrier so that it can never be an excuse holding them back.
Team Liquid will still finish fourth in the season if the fail to really solidify their teamplay and consistency as a team as a direct result of the roster changes that they decide to make every split to improve the roster on paper. Fans need only to think back on how the acquisitions of Alex “Xpecial” Chu and Quas had slow starts to their team synergy that led to inconsistent victories until later in the split. If Team Liquid does indeed finish fourth this split, the biggest mistake would be to make a roster change to the current lineup unless something unavoidable happens to the lineup.
Change is not a Magic Trick
If there’s anything that can be learned from these two teams, it’s that not every roster change will be the magic fix set to break free of whatever curse that haunts a team in Playoffs. Unless a roster change is absolutely necessary, it feels as though making one would be repeating the same ritual as always instead of continuing to improve on the mistakes that caused them to lose in the first place.
CLG can afford to get one more foreigner on their team, so if they choose to import a new mid laner, no one would be surprised. But that doesn’t magically fix their team fighting or their shotcalling, so even if they make the decision to keep Link, it’s not the end of the world for CLG.
As for Team Liquid, the roster they’ve put together is solid on paper, but the time restraints put on this specific roster are significantly more severe than those of the teams they’ll be facing in the rest of the playoffs. Regardless of whether or not they place fourth again this split, there will be no changing the future in Summer Split if they’re unable to solidify a team identity and improve.
Mythological tales in ancient civilizations were used to teach moral lessons for children as they grew up. In this case, Sisyphus was punished for his hubris, doomed to roll a boulder for all eternity. Both CLG and TL fall back into the depths of despair following a high point, because they can no longer afford to ignore key issues that were masked by a few wins or succeeding to fix one of their many minor problems. Failure to do so will be more wasted effort and another season of disappointment for their fans who hope for more.
Images credited to Riot Games and Lolesports