Paid by Steve

Is Team Liquid’s relegation streak over?

TL
Image taken from @TeamLiquidLoL‘s Twitter page

Long gone are the days when Team Liquid had to deal with the forever fourth meme. I bet TL would give anything to go back to falling just short of expectations yet still having a shot at the World Championship. Avoiding relegation has been the only thing on their mind this 2017 season and, surprisingly, they find a way to make their journey a wild ride every time. TL’s management has proven time and time again that when the team is struggling the best solution is to mix up the roster, buy new players and, sometimes, reacquire old ones. After an absurd season full of ups and downs, TL avoided relegations for the second split in a row. It turns out throwing an unreasonable amount of money a team’s way does pay dividends. Or at least saves them from doing so.

The last time Team Liquid made playoffs was back in the Summer Split of 2016, when Joshua Dardoch Harnett was on the starting roster. The team had a solid run in the regular season but not without complications. Internal conflicts lead to Chae Piglet Gwang-jin, the team’s AD Carry to move to TL’s Challenger squad, Team Liquid Academy. The team substituted him for Jovani fabbbyyy Guillen very early in the season and ultimately finished in fifth place. In the quarterfinals they were only able to take one game off Counter Logic Gaming by subbing in Phil Jynthe Vu as their ADC. This would give birth to a Team Liquid tradition of swapping out players randomly in the most awkward of times

Even with their underwhelming playoff results, TL’s fourth place finish in the spring split guaranteed them a spot at the regional qualifiers for Worlds. However, the team’s inner turmoil grew by the minute and Dardoch was benched and replaced by Lyonel Arcsecond Pfaender. The team did not find any success with the substitute jungler and fell 3-0 to Team EnVyUs. This would mark the end of Team Liquid’s competitive 2016 season and their time with Dardoch, as well as the beginning of their very unfortunate downfall.

On November 2, 2016, a couple of months after the regional qualifier, Breaking Point premiered, a documentary produced by Team Liquid to portrait how they operated behind the scenes. It was meant to show the ups and down of a professional team’s season as well as the interaction between teammates and staff, but it turned out more akin to a reality show or a sitcom without the live studio audience or laugh track. Dardoch was problematic and arrogant clashing constantly with coach Choi Locodoco Yoon-sub and Piglet. However, Dardoch wasn’t the only one to blame as the team environment was clearly toxic.  Locodoco handled problems poorly and with little maturity. It all eventually concluded with both Dardoch and Locodoco leaving the organization and reforming their attitudes. In addition, Kim FeniX Jae-Hun, TL’s mid laner, also parted ways with the team.

The 2017 season was closing in and Team Liquid eagerly announced their new roster. Kim Reignover Yeu-jin joined as their new jungler. Moreover, TL acquired LCS veteran Austin LiNk Shin as a substitute mid laner. Greyson Goldenglue Gilmer would start in the role. There were many question marks surrounding GoldenGlue, but everyone could agree that, on paper, Reignover was bound to be an incredible addition to the team.

The first weeks of play quickly confirmed the doubts fans had of GoldenGlue, and Reignover wasn’t playing like his former MVP self. Week after week, the team dropped lower and lower in the standings. Their poor performance was almost undisputedly pinned on GoldenGlue, though TL had way more weakness and shortcomings than just one player. This would cause a ludicrous amount of role swaps and roster changes, though, oddly enough, LiNk didn’t play a single game under the Liquid banner.

Piglet would become the team’s mid laner, earning himself the nickname Midlet. After trying out new ADCs to no avail, Team Liquid contracted TSM’s star player, Peter Yiliang Doublelift Peng, to help them during the remainder of the split. Doublelift had previously decided to take a break from competitive play and try out streaming, but TL desperately needed his help and were willing to pay good money for it. After what was their most disastrous season yet, Team Liquid barely avoided relegation in the Promotion Tournament and could rest easy for the time being.

The summer split kicked off with a motivating message from Team Liquid’s owner, Steve Arhancet. In it, he stated the team had renewed faith in Goldenglue after his bootcamp in Korea and changes to staff were going to be a big factor in the upcoming season.  He made it sound like the identical roster from the start of last split had done a complete 180° and was ready to take the LCS by storm. No matter how hopeful and positive this message was, it had to be taken with a grain of salt. The team’s play had to speak for itself.

Steve’s inspiring words were not enough to stop TL from having a slow start to the season. GoldenGlue was immediately subbed out after the first series loss and all the sweet talk was nowhere to be found. Team Liquid was on track to have another terrible season. Roster changes were mind boggling; Reignover was replaced mid-split by ex-P1 jungler, Rami Inori Charagh, and GoldenGlue spent a considerable amount of time on the bench. After experimenting with a ten man roster and mixing and matching their starting lineup, TL finally seemed to have found their footing.

Two key acquisitions brought life back to the Team Liquid organization. The first one was Young-min Mickey Son, ex-mid laner for the LCK team Rox Tigers and Afreeca Freecs; well known for taking down SKT T1 every now and then. Many thought this to be a joke, as weeks before the buy Disney invested in TL’s ownership group and the situations was alluded to sarcastically in an episode of This or That. Nevertheless, the information was accurate. As soon as Mickey’s Visa was taken care of, he would join the TL squad.

If Mickey was to start for Team Liquid, they would exceed their import slots and couldn’t start Reignover in the jungle. Their only option would be to put in Inori or acquire another non-import jungler. In old TL fashion, they chose the latter and brought back a familiar face, Dardoch. At this point in his career, Dardoch had been part of two other teams (three if you count the Echo Fox buy that never went through), Immortals and Counter Logic Gaming. His time on Immortals was disappointing to say the least, as the team didn’t qualify for playoffs. However, when he joined CLG in the summer split of 2017, things got controversial, again.

Dardoch was part of the CLG-Immortal jungler trade, where Jake Xmithie Puchero took his place on IMT. Both teams clutched top spots in the standings, making the trade seem like a win-win situation. It was only until Omar OmarGod Amin, CLG academy jungler and substitute for the main squad, abruptly replaced Dardoch that fans started to doubt him. Immediately everyone thought the decision was taken due to attitude issues and conflicts inside the team. Yet, Dardoch came out on Twitter to express that it was not the case. Weeks passed and CLG finally made an official announcement regarding the matter. Dardoch and the CLG org would part ways as he “did not align with [the team’s] focus on teamwork and culture”. Luckily for Dardoch, the was a tenth place team in despair that needed his help to avoid relegation.

Team Liquid finished tied for last place in the regular season of the 2017 summer split and, while their LCS spot wasn’t technically on the line, they still had to play in the Promotion tournament. Because the NA LCS is moving to a franchising system next year, the tournament no longer guaranteed a spot in the league. However, winning meant avoiding a hefty fee of $3 million dollars meant for non-LCS teams that wanted to apply. TL made quick work of Challenger Series runner up, eUnited and dramatically reverse swept Phoenix 1 to hold on to their LCS spot and save $3 million dollars.

No matter how likely it is that Team Liquid will be a part of the 2018 NA LCS season, their future is still uncertain. If they do return, will their performances continue to be as poor or is their relegation streak finally over? The roster that played at the Promo tournament looks promising and might have even caught some by surprise. Nevertheless, this is a very similar line-up to the TL that finished fourth in the spring of 2016. It could be argued that Mickey is an upgrade from FeniX and the renovated team environment and infrastructure is bound to be beneficial for the player’s development.

Maybe, what Dardoch needed to be truly reformed was to come full circle and return to his original team. Hopefully, GoldenGlue can find success as a Vault Boy impersonator at some point next year on TL or on another team. Ideally, we’ll get to see Liquid return to their forever fourth form and, while they might not deliver with results, we can always expect them to deliver with memes.

[This article was not Paid by Steve] (Paid by Steve)

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