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Team Liquid’s 2020: From First, to Worst, and Back to First

From cemented LCS dynasty to North American laughing stock, and all the way back to the top, Team Liquid’s League of Legends team had a one heck of a journey in 2020. But through all the commotion and drama surrounding it, one thing held true: Team Liquid remained resilient.

Image courtesy of Team Liquid

An LCS Dynasty 

Team Liquid entered the 2020 LCS Spring Split coming off its fourth consecutive title, earning the honor of calling itself the back-to-back-to-back-to-back LCS Champion. The previous time someone not named Team Liquid won the LCS was all the way back in 2017, and it was looking like that streak was about to get longer. 

Things were looking good for the North American juggernauts. They had just imported Worlds finalist jungler Mads “Broxah” Brocks-Pedersen from Fnatic, adding to an already stacked roster of world-class League of Legends players. 

Team Liquid’s premier lineup now featured two World champions and one World finalist along with legendary players Peter “Doublelift” Peng and Nicolaj “Jensen” Jensen. With this immense talent competing alongside one another, nothing could stop this roster from winning LCS and extending the reign of the Team Liquid dynasty… right? 

North American Laughing Stock 

Image courtesy Riot Games

If you were planning to secretly take down a professional League of Legends team from the outside, the immigration office would be the place to start. 

On Jan. 1, 2020, Team Liquid co-owner Steven Arhancet tweeted that the organization was going through issues relating to the visas of Broxah, new academy jungler Shern “Shernfire” Cherng Tai and head coach Jang “Cain” Nu-ri. 

Visa issues are nothing new to League of Legends esports. It seems like every time there’s a major import, there is some sort of delay with the visa process. But with the LCS Spring Split just over three weeks away, there was nothing Liquid and its fans could do but sit patiently and wait for their shiny new jungler to be approved to come to America.

By mid-January, there was still no word on Broxah’s visa, but Liquid did receive some good news, which was that Shernfire’s had been approved, and that he would be able to come to the States and begin competing under Team Liquid. 

The organization had already claimed that if Broxah was unable to play in the beginning of the split, the team would start former mid laner Eugene “Pobelter” Park in the jungle, who had just been signed to Team Liquid as a coach. But after trying out both players in scrims, the team landed on Shernfire to be the starting jungler for Team Liquid at the start of 2020. 

On Jan. 25, Week One of the League of Legends Championship Series commenced. With a starting roster of Jeong “Impact” Eon-young, Shernfire, Jensen, Doublelift and Jo “CoreJJ” Yong-in, Team Liquid was set to face off against Cloud9 in the first match of 2020. 

Screenshot courtesy of Riot Games

Lo and behold, it did not go well. It was a 24-minute smashing for the side of Cloud9, and Team Liquid had no choice but to goldfish-memory the game away and move on. The team did just that, and managed to pick up its first victory of the season against Team SoloMid in its second match.

By the end of Week Four, Broxah’s visa had finally been approved and the jungler was ready to compete in the LCS, but not before Liquid stumbled its way through the first three weeks, going 2-4 to start the season. 

Broxah arrived in Los Angeles to a near-disaster at the Team Liquid headquarters. It was an incredibly rough three weeks, and Team Liquid’s performance on the Rift was straight up bad. Yes, Shernfire was not meeting the expectations that came with being a starter for Team Liquid, but he wasn’t the only problem. 

Impact looked like he had completely fallen off in the top lane. Doublelift kept spamming Senna in the bot lane, and kept losing over and over again. When Broxah signed his contract with Team Liquid, the organization was at the very top of North America. When he actually arrived, it was at the bottom of the standings with losses to Dignitas, 100 Thieves and Golden Guardians.

But 2-4 was nowhere near the end for Team Liquid. Broxah had finally arrived in Los Angeles and was ready and raring to bring Team Liquid back on top. 

And that’s exactly what happened as TL won both spring and summer and had a great run at Worlds, end of story… Just kidding. What actually happened was much more stressful for Liquid and its fans. 

It was his first-ever moment in the LCS, and Broxah attempted to solo-invade the enemy jungle, walked over a ward and instantly got killed by the enemy jungler and support. But that’s no big deal. Again, just goldfish-memory it away and move on. 

In his second LCS game, Broxah put up an incredible performance as Sejuani, racking up 11 assists without a death. In fact, it was a near-perfect game for Team Liquid, which only gave up one kill and two dragons to Counter Logic Gaming, winning in a swift 23 minutes. 

Things were back to looking good for Team Liquid. Broxah was finally here and was making a difference. Doublelift had admitted to being unmotivated, which of course brought a wave of drama to the team, but was claiming that a wake-up call brought back his drive to compete. A 3-5 start was nowhere near what Team Liquid had hoped for, but a mid-season run and playoff push wasn’t out of the question. 

TL would wind up winning three out of its next four games, improving to 6-6 by the end of Week Six. Rookie bot laner Edward “Tactical” Ra was subbed in for Doublelift, putting up incredible performances while the storied AD Carry worked out his motivation issues. The near future was finally looking bright for Liquid, but what followed was not pretty.

Image courtesy of Riot Games

Team Liquid’s issues that had plagued it earlier in the year came back. Impact was struggling in the top lane. Broxah was struggling in the jungle. Doublelift and CoreJJ weren’t performing up to the level they should have been. Jensen wasn’t looking bad in the mid lane, but what was he supposed to do when the team was imploding around him?

Liquid quickly went spiraling, losing five out of its six remaining games, bottoming out and finishing the split in ninth place, with an abysmal 7-11 record, going 5-9 with Broxah. 

This was Team Liquid’s lowest point since the days of relegation. It’s easy to point at Broxah and say that he was the problem. The jungle position was all that had changed from 2019 to 2020. After all, the only difference between the TL that took down Invictus Gaming in MSI, and the TL that finished ninth in the LCS, was Broxah. 

But it was a combination of everything. The Liquid collapse was the result of team-wide issues combined with poor individual play. Broxah simply wasn’t the type of jungler that Team Liquid needed, not to mention the unfortunate circumstances that plagued him from the start.

After finally getting his visa approved after months of idle waiting, he comes to the United States to a country in a virus-induced lockdown, to a team he hadn’t practiced with that’s bedeviled with competitive issues. It almost seems like Broxah’s year was doomed before it began. 

The Climb Back 

Another failed European import, a washed up top laner and an untested rookie bot laner.

Image courtesy of Riot Games

Doubelift had abandoned Team Liquid in a drama-filled offseason that culminated in him making his triumphant return to TSM, while Liquid was left at the bottom to bleed out. The former back-to-back-to-back-to-back LCS Champions were nothing more than another failed NA experiment. 

Then, on May 4, a little over a month before the start of the Summer Split, Team liquid brought on former LCS broadcaster Joshua “Jatt” Leesman to become its head coach. It was a risky hire for sure. Jatt’s last competitive experience was all the way back in 2011 when he was a pro player for Dignitas. For the past eight and a half years, Jatt had been working as a broadcaster and developer for Riot Games.

Despite how risky the hire was, it paid off big time. It was a slow build up, but Team Liquid completely changed its identity from spring to summer. Jatt used Broxah in a way that’s more conducive to his playstyle. 

Tactical, the rookie who was given the keys to the bot lane after Doublelift’s departure, quickly became the organization’s shining star and one of the premier young players in all of North America. CoreJJ, who played a big role in Tactical’s development, went through his own personal renaissance, eventually being awarded the MVP of summer for his incredible supportive play. 

Jatt instilled a new regime for Team Liquid. The players slowed down their pace, and stopped trying to force plays, which had caused so many issues in spring. Instead, they capitalized off the mistakes of their opponents. 

The reinvigorated Team Liquid won its first three matches of the 2020 LCS Summer Split, and would finish winning 12 out of its last 13, securing first place in the standings with a 15-3 record. 

It was eliminated in the playoffs at the hands of the eventual champions, TSM, but Liquid came back strong for Worlds 2020. After looking like the clear best team in the Play-In stage, Liquid was rolled into a group with G2 Esports, Suning Gaming and Machi Esports. 

While it wasn’t the most dangerous group in Worlds 2020, G2 Esports proved to be a top-four team in the world, and Suning went on to defeat JD Gaming and Top Esports to secure a spot in the Finals before losing to DAMWON. 

Team Liquid managed to take at least one game off all three opponents in the Group Stage. Even though it didn’t advance to the Knockout Stage, it was still an impressive run for the North American representatives, and by 2020’s conclusion, Team Liquid looked once again to be the greatest team in North America. 

Back on Top

Screenshot courtesy of Riot Games

It’s been a wild ride so far, hasn’t it? From Broxah’s visa issues to Shernfire’s struggles, to Doublelift’s drama, to Jatt’s hire, to Tactical’s rise, to CoreJJ’s MVP and finally all the way to its Worlds run, Team Liquid went through a roller coaster of a year. It started 2020 as the best team in North America, stooped all the way to ninth place, and ended the year looking like the best team once again.

So where does Team Liquid stand now? What’s the organization’s outlook going into 2021? Well for starters, the team made major changes in the top lane and jungle, putting an end to the ever-memorable Broxah experiment. 

Team Liquid brought in two premier players to replace Impact and Broxah in Barney “Alphari” Morris and Lucas Tao “Santorin” Kilmer Larsen. Team Liquid’s 2020 roster now stands as:

Top: Barney “Alphari” Morris

Jungle: Lucas Tao “Santorin” Kilmer Larsen

Mid: Nicolaj “Jensen” Jensen

ADC: Edward “Tactical” Ra

Support: Jo “CoreJJ” Yong-in

At an organization level, TL also brought on popular League of Legends personality Jake “Spawn” Riberi to be the head coach for Team Liquid Academy.

There is no doubt just how strong Team Liquid looks going into 2021. Even with Cloud9 bringing in the legendary Luka “Perkz” Perković, many still view Liquid as LCS’ top team going into the new year. 

Looking back, it’s easy to remember 2020 as a massive down year for Liquid. The team fell hard, and landed harder, but the year shouldn’t be remembered as a collapse. Team Liquid’s resiliency as an organization is what defined it in 2020. 

Everybody goes through periods of challenge and struggle, and we shouldn’t fault people for experiencing those hardships. Instead, we should look at how they persevered and recovered. It may have been a bumpy year, but Team Liquid is back at the top of North American League of Legends, right where it belongs. 

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