The Nightmare Year For Team Liquid

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The collapse of Team Liquid has been a depressing, heartbreaking sight to watch. I can only imagine the pain of being a Liquid fan is exactly how Cleveland Browns fans have recently felt watching their team struggle year after year.  Like the Browns, Liquid used to field dominant squads and hosted several talented players that were fun to watch. They also fell short of the finish line one too many times, suffering several demoralizing, gut punching defeats before finally watching the years of hard work and effort go down in flames.

Liquid deserved one trip to the World Championships and at least one NA LCS title. Now, Liquid squarely sits as the worst team in the league. A star player like Peng “Doublelift” Yillang won’t save this doomed squad any more.

Part of the blame should fall on the organization. It’s hard to inspire confidence with fans when your starting roster for summer is the same roster that only collected two wins in spring. It’s also hard to boost team morale when you’ve thrown everything at the wall trying to improve your team’s standing with no positive results. Steve Arhancet has had to learn a hard lesson this year: you can’t just fix your team by throwing more money at it. Yeu-jin “Reignover” Kim came to Liquid with a reputation as one of the best junglers in the world. Now he looks like an overpaid, underperforming veteran with the worst team in the LCS. In traditional sports, the worst teams are the ones that have to overpay for talent. Those teams only get worse before they get better.

Even more damning for Liquid comes with the list of talents that have come through the organization over the years, dating back to its time as Team Curse. An organization that once had names like Kevin “Hauntzer” Yarnell and Eugene “Pobelter” Park should have never let them walk to other teams. It’s insane to think of the success Liquid could have in alternate timelines with a few changes at key positions. Especially in the cases of Hauntzer and Pobelter, former NA LCS champions who have been to a World Championship tournament, it reflects poorly on the organization that some of its former players have gone on to have greater success with its competitors.

To be fair to Steve, a lot of these faults come down to chance. There was no way he was going to keep every talented player he’s found under the Curse/Liquid banner when a lot of players want a guaranteed job as a starter. This isn’t the first time he’s rolled the dice on young talent. By now, he knows not to take anything for granted. Some times he’s found a superstar or a starter. Other times he’s found a bust. No one could have expected Reignover, Lourlo, or Matt to faceplant in 2017. But there are things that simply don’t come to chance.

One look at the organization during a turbulent 2016, courtesy of the brilliant Breaking Point documentary, paints a strong picture. The same issue that doomed head coach Yoonsup “Locodoco” Choi’s tenure with Team Solo Mid ultimately ends up being his undoing with Liquid. His inability to create an effective team environment and earn his players’ respect was only exacerbated by Dardoch, the outspoken yet immature star player. Look no further than the pivotal meeting between Steve, Dardoch, and Locodoco. The passive aggressive actions from Locodoco such as flicking his lighter and placing a roll of toilet paper right by Dardoch aren’t what you should expect from any decently respectful human, let alone a professional coach.

It didn’t help matters when Dardoch, like Gwang-jin “Piglet” Chae, was proven to be too valuable to replace on stage. By letting Dardoch off the hook and ending his suspension early, Liquid sent a bad message to its players and to Dardoch. If they would have stuck to their guns earlier and kept Dardoch benched, Dardoch could have properly learned that his actions have consequences and could have learned he’d have to work harder on his attitude issues to re-earn the starting job.

Instead, Liquid made it clear that Dardoch was beneath punishment because his raw talent was too significant to the team’s success. Liquid ultimately did the right thing cutting Dardoch loose but by the time they made the decision it was too little, too late. When your authority has no credibility, players have no reason to trust the process. Furthermore, when you decide to give the same two-win roster from spring a second chance to prove they can make it work, you should give that roster a fair amount of time to develop. But when your knee-jerk reaction after one day of live action gains the ire of a normally impartial shoutcaster like James “Dash” Patterson, you’ve sent an alarming message to your fans and your competitors.

If it wasn’t official after the first week of summer, everybody knows it by now: Team Liquid is an absolute dumpster fire. Are they doomed for relegation? Mathematically speaking, there’s a chance Liquid can still finish 7th and avoid relegation. But a deeper look at their summer numbers, roster instability, and remaining games make any chance of Liquid avoiding relegation a long shot. Unless Steve can find lightning in a bottle, there’s no saving this squad from playing in the promotion tournament.

While I am aware that the next NA LCS split will officially mark the end of relegations and the beginning of franchising, I don’t believe in slamming the door shut on the teams that win the promotion tournament provided it happens. How fair would it be for EUnited, Tempo Storm, Gold Coin United, or Big God Jackals if they weren’t accepted into the NA LCS after winning their way into an LCS spot while a relegated squad gets to re-enter the NA LCS as if nothing happened? Even if Liquid is allowed to franchise with the NA LCS, how would Liquid attract quality free agents to play for their team with recent history in mind? Why would any player with ambitions to play at Worlds want to play for Liquid? Why would any player think their career is in good hands with Liquid after this year?

That’s not to say Team Liquid has never done anything good or productive for the development of the NA LCS. This is not meant to smear Team Liquid’s positive contributions to the scenes. Steve Arhancet is an owner who is well-liked by his peers and fans of different reaches due to his passion and his dedication to the business. He’s a pioneer in the sense that his idea to increase competition between his players and develop talent for the LCS stage for the long-term eventually resulted in the Academy League set to replace the Challenger Series.  Even as Liquid continues onward through this nightmare season, Steve remains the calm in the storm, diligently working to do anything and everything he can to give his team the best chance to win.

Long-time veterans like Doublelift and even team owners like Team Envy’s Mike “Hastr0” Rufail have respect for Liquid as an organization and do not want to see them go away. Losing Team Liquid in the NA LCS would only crush a strong, dedicated fanbase the same way Art Modell crushed Cleveland when he moved his franchise to Baltimore. But the reality of the situation could be too heartbreaking for Liquid fans to admit when they take a deep look in the mirror. This is an organization that’s a far cry from its glory days. Liquid is too bad to compete with too many question marks about its coaching and infrastructure. But they’re too significant to exclude from franchising.

If the players on Team Liquid want to prove that their team and the organization is worth believing in for the future, it must solely be on the merit of their performance. Over the next three weeks, whoever plays for Liquid on the LCS stage must step up and play their hearts out. At this point, there’s nothing left to lose. Worlds and playoffs are highly unlikely to happen but every Liquid player should be looking himself in the mirror and asking if this is the way he wants his season to end. Come out with some fire and passion and prove to your doubters, myself included, that you can play League of Legends at the highest level and that you’re worth believing in.

Your owner said it himself. Winning fixes everything.

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