North America’s Chance at 2019 Worlds Pt. 1: Team Liquid

As we enter August, and we’re merely 2 weeks away from the NA LCS playoffs, I begin to look ahead to my favorite time of year: the League of Legends World Championship. This year is especially interesting; as the last two large, international events have given us strong western performances, unlike anything ever seen in professional League of Legends.

This is especially true for my favorite region; North America; who had previously seemed helpless at most of these events; getting constantly blasted by both Korea and China. However, at last year’s World Championship, Cloud9 was able to knock off top seeds from both of those regions, on their way to the semifinals. And similarly, Team Liquid beat analyst-favorite, Invictus Gaming, 3-1, to make it to the finals of the Mid Season Invitational.

These performances naturally have everyone asking if they can be repeated; giving way to much more competitive international competition, or simply fading away into the old, North American mediocrity? I personally believe that; while the potential still certainly exists for us to have more, strong North American performances; this specific tournament will knock people back down to reality.

This can be seen with a close-up look at each of the top 4 North American teams right now: Team Liquid, CLG, Cloud9, and TSM; as they are the only real potential candidates for attending the championship. We will first hit on Team Liquid, because they are the current number 1 team in the standings, and the favorites to win it all. Following this post, however, will be looks at each of the other teams listed above.

International Performance

As I previously stated, Team Liquid was North America’s representative at this year’s Mid Season Invitational, and put up quite a showing. While their group stage performance wasn’t outstanding, they did what underdogs do best: upset those above them. And with a jaw-dropping performance in the semifinals, they beat China’s best team, iG. Following that, at Rift Rivals, they ended with a 3-1 record against Europe; beating who some believe to be the best team in the world: G2. While all of these things are incredibly impressive, and prove that the North American giants are trending up, there are a few caveats I feel to these performances.

While yes, they did beat G2 twice recently; one of those games they didn’t necessarily earn. G2 did what they do best, and picked a weird and whacky team composition, to throw off their opponents. However, Team Liquid simply fell back to the once-broken strategy of Sona + Taric in the bottom lane, and a couple other good teamfighting champions to go with them. And although G2 got a very large early-game lead, they let TL scale, and therefore out-teamfight them in the end. TL didn’t particularly perform well that game; they just simply followed the directions written out by the champions they picked, and G2 didn’t close early enough.

Similarly, their performance at MSI was not nearly as good as the resume may make it seem. Everyone is blinded by the 3-1 scoreline of their semifinals series, and doesn’t look at the whole picture. As I said before, their group-stage play was not the greatest, and there was a point where several people didn’t even know if they’d make it past the group-stage. Simply by beating the incredibly weak regions below them, they slid past, onto the true competition. Following that, their eventual 3-1 victory wasn’t necessarily as much on them, as it was on their opponents. On “The Dive” podcast, earlier that week, analyst and caster Spawn said he could see TL take some games simply by the main flaw in iG: their willingness to consistently go into the fight, after they have lost it. This is exactly what happened, as they borderline-suicided time after time, despite losing the beginning of a fight; under the belief that they could outplay it. Team Liquid didn’t pound-for-pound outplay them, but simply took advantages where they were given on a silver platter.

Despite my seemingly-negative view of Team Liquid’s recent international performances, they have done quite well overall, and have shown a lot of potential going forward. They had one legitimate win over G2 at Rift Rivals, as well as one at MSI; and they managed to beat every team, except Fnatic at Rift Rivals. However, my main concern is outside of this realm, and has to do with their domestic region, and performance.

Domestic Performance and State of Region

Team Liquid currently finds themselves at the top of the standings in North America, and deservedly so. Despite taking multiple breaks for international play, they maintained consistent, and beat most of the teams they should. There have been occasional slip-ups, but most of them come down to one thing: lack of effort and seriousness.

While Team Liquid is a very strong team in every aspect, they hold a large portion of the talent, and North America as a region is still in dire straits. Last split was incredibly competitive, having TSM and Cloud9 both respectively challenge the throne; and for the first time in a while, as well. However, both of these teams have seen incredible falls in performance this split.

I’ll speak on this more in later posts, but TSM is not half of the team they were in Spring. After making enormous strides in 2019 to find themselves inches away from the Spring championship, they now find themselves at the very bottom of the playoff picture, and trending downward. Playstyle, execution, and drafting issues all plague the team equally, and cause them to almost lose to teams at the very bottom of the standings, like Echo Fox.

Cloud9 has not had nearly the same fall from grace as TSM, but they have had their own share of struggles this season. Illness and injuries have caused them to shift their lineup several times this season, and despite having the best jungler in the region, Svenskeren is consistently subbed out for bench player Blaber.

The main concern I have here is the sheer magnitude of competition brought to Team Liquid in the regular season. They constantly deal with shells of teams, rather than strong ones, and that is quite obviously not the reality that exists outside of North America. Teams like G2 have Fnatic, Splyce, Origen, and others to contend with, and everyone knows the amount of talent countries like Korea and China have. The polarization in the talent-level of North American teams is huge, and I feel detrimental to Team Liquid’s practice.

This has resulted in Team Liquid focusing heavier on international play, rather than domestic, as they don’t take their opponents seriously. And this is understandable. They’ve been vocal about this, and despite their lack of effort, they find themselves in first place, one week from the playoffs. I see this working in one of two ways, long-term. Either the lack of seriousness can easily meld into the international play as well, or their focus on better opponents pays off, and they pull off a large surprise at this year’s World Championship.

Overall

Team Liquid is most-likely North America’s biggest chance at making a splash in this year’s World Championship. I am quite skeptical of their past performances, but I do think they show potential to make it far. I personally feel they may have a repeat of Cloud9’s performance last year, making it to the semifinals, and then getting destroyed by a much better team from a much better region. I don’t see a championship being realistic for them, but I could see them making it to the finals, potentially, if their group and bracket is generous enough. In the end, I think it comes down to their execution, as they obviously have the talent capable of doing a lot.

Stay tuned for more League of Legends/Esports-related content very soon! Hopefully within the next few days!

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