What’s wrong with Team Liquid?

Doublelift has been recruited as Team Liquid’s new ADC for the spring split.

Whilst the recent decisions Team Liquid have announced as a response to their poor performance are encouraging, it’s concerning that a team with so much experience, money and talent finds itself in this situation.

The team has consistently struggled to achieve success over the years which would imply that the problems are with the team, if not the organisation, and how they approach League of Legends. This is why despite acquiring talented players such as Doublelift and Adrian, Team Liquid hasn’t succeeded in resolving their problems.

Following their loss to FlyQuest, they’re staring relegation in the face but they’ve a chance at salvation via the NA LCS promotion tournament. This’ll include EnVyUs and challenger teams eUnited and Gold Coin United. Regardless of what plays out here, this is a look at the wider and deeper problems with TL. 

Experience, money and talent.

Team Liquid is one of the oldest organisations involved with the North American LCS and their co-CEO, Steve “Liquid112” Arhancet, is a veteran of the scene. Steve has been part of the North American LCS circuit since 2010 when he was the Team Manager of Curse LoL.

“The organisation has never managed to achieve the success of other veteran NA teams; TSM, C9 and CLG”

This team was acquired by Team Liquid in 2015 at which point he was promoted to co-CEO. It’s easy to think of TL and Steve as having been around for only two years, but the fact is that they have over seven years of esports and League experience. Yet somehow, in all that time, the organisation has never managed to achieve the success of other veteran NA teams; TSM, C9 and CLG. Unlike those orgs, TL seems to lack the foundation, history and infrastructure that these veterans have developed over the years and leveraged into success.

Reignover, Piglet and Lourlo

Team Liquid can’t claim that their issues stem from a lack of money as they were acquired by aXiomatic Esports, an ownership group comprised of traditional sports team owners Peter Gruber and Ted Leonsis, in September 2016. This injected a significant amount of capital that allowed them to invest significantly into their infrastructure, adding coaches and analysts, to provide support for their newly promoted Head Coach David Lim

They also used the funds to recruit Reignover, who at the time was considered by many to be the most valuable and expensive player in the West.

Reignover had a very successful career over two years in two different regions. As a proven, in-game leader he was meant to be the last piece of the puzzle that would allow TL to succeed in 2017. Unfortunately, this hasn’t happened. The season has been a disaster, with Team Liquid finding itself facing relegations. As a result, they’ve used the mid-season break to restructure and find a way to turn the situation around.

Desperate times and desperate decisions

Their decisions and communications have revealed how bad the situation really is. Their ‘strategy’ is to try anything and everything. This isn’t a strategy, it’s a move a desperate man makes when he has no idea what could work. This would indicate that they might not even understand what the problems are. This desperation has been commented on by a number of experts and analysts and was ultimately confirmed when TL moved their world champion ADC, from the role he’s played for five years, to midlane, a role he enjoys playing in solo queue.

“It’s these sorts of desperate decisions that indicate a panicking team that is looking for quick fixes, instead of a veteran team that has a strong understanding of the game”

Unfortunately, Piglet’s performances so far have been lacklustre, to say the least. What’s worse is that an argument can be made that since picking up Doublelift, TL would have been better off keeping Goldenglue.  Given Piglet’s performance in mid, is the team going to swap him back if the meta changes and ADCs become more relevant? Are they really comfortable sacrificing all that experience and knowledge as well as giving Piglet the time to learn his new role?

It’s these sorts of desperate decisions that indicate a panicking team that is looking for quick fixes, instead of a veteran team that has a strong understanding of the game. It’s this lack of understanding that has held them back, and means that despite the talent on their roster, they’ve continued to struggle.

New team, old problems.

Piglet was replaced by Doublelift, another veteran with a successful history. On paper, Team Liquid was shaping up to be quite the powerhouse with Reignover, Piglet and Doublelift on the team. There are many fantasy league players that would have loved to have that lineup last year. And yet the issues still persist. Issues that echo the problems from last year.

“The documentary ‘Breaking Point’ covers this period well and I’d recommend watching it to get a sense of the internal turmoil”

2016 was meant to be a fresh start for Team Liquid, they had a 10 man roster which quickly settled into a rookie squad around veterans Fenix and Piglet. The spring split was successful and promising with fans and analysts looking forward to the team’s performance in summer. Instead, the team imploded. 

Bjergsen and Doublelift embrace at the recent NA Spring Split

The documentary ‘Breaking Point’ covers this period well and I’d recommend watching it to get a sense of the internal turmoil. Particularly the lack of direction and issues with team management.

There have been rumours that Steve likes to recruit talented players without considering their temperaments and approaches to the game. So whilst TL has often had a talented roster on paper, they haven’t worked out because the priority is individual talent and not strategy or teamwork. This is what we are currently seeing; a very talented team that doesn’t work well together. This is exacerbated by issues with management.

Problems at the top.

Breaking Point showed numerous issues with the team’s managers and their inability to lead.

Unfortunately this doesn’t seem to have changed despite the influx of capital and the opportunity to learn from previous mistakes. According to Steve his attention has been focused elsewhere due to the new partnership with aXiomatic and he hasn’t “been involved on the ground floor, holding their staff accountable for League of Legends” he reemphasised this by saying “[I’ve] cleared my full schedule so I’m here with the team, I’m working with them and holding the staff accountable”.

“The co-CEO of an organisation that comprises of 11 teams and over 60 players shouldn’t be micromanaging individual staff”

Whilst Steve’s decision to prioritise the issue and take such a hands on approach is admirable, it’s disconcerting that the TL staff need someone to ‘hold them accountable’ in order for them to do a good job. Furthermore the co-CEO of an organisation that comprises of 11 teams and over 60 players shouldn’t be micromanaging individual staff. So what’s wrong with the management that Steve feels this way? And how does an org with 7 years of experience hire people like this in the first place?

Surely after all this time, the team should have built up a solid network of experts. The fact that it hasn’t, while other teams have, gives some insight into why TL finds itself struggling.

Foundation and growth?

2017 was supposed to be better. They got rid of the problematic components from 2016, received an influx of capital, and hired talented individuals to help the team succeed. Yet somehow they’ve ended up in a worse position. How can this veteran team with so much experience be so desperate? How is it that every communication indicates that they don’t know what’s wrong or how to fix it? This is the core of what I see as the issue with Team Liquid.

A veteran team with seven years of experience shouldn’t be grasping at straws, desperately trying to stumble upon something that works. Somehow Team Liquid lacks the foundation that other veteran teams have developed. For all their faults CLG have managed to overcome their history and won two splits. Cloud9, despite being a younger organisation than TL, have managed to revamp their whole roster and succeed. And when they have struggled their decisions have made sense and worked. TSM have incorporated Koreans, Europeans and Americans, veterans and rookies and have been consistently successful. Team Liquid on the other hand have never displayed that growth as an organisation. Which begs the question of why? It isn’t a lack of money, talent or experience so it’s logical to think it has something to do with the org and the way it approaches the game. 

These fundamental flaws are preventing Team Liquid from succeeding and this is concerning, to both fans and investors. If such a veteran team with a recent influx of capital can find itself in this situation, what does that say about other less experienced teams? What about the other veteran teams, is their stability an illusion? Which explains why investors and teams are so concerned about relegations. After such an influx of capital and so much investment, the franchise is now facing the threat of relegation, after finishing in 9th place.

Team Liquid might be bigger than League of Legends but the current situation it finds itself in makes me wonder if the issues with the LoL team are endemic to the leadership and the rest of the organisation. 

(Images credited to Riot Games)