Faker’s Past His Prime

Published On: 5/10/2024

An Insight into Team Liquid’s Road to MSI 2024 (Ft. APA & Yeon)

As one of the longest-standing organizations not just in LoL Esports, but in esports as a whole, Team Liquid’s goal has always been clear: to win, no matter which title they’re competing in. And, for their LCS roster in particular, the expectations from both the organization and the fans are always high.

The team has had trouble finding the right recipe in recent years. After failing to win both LCS splits in 2023 and falling short at Worlds, it was back to the drawing board as the year drew to a close. Over the off-season Team Liquid brought back world champion Impact – who had won four LCS trophies with them previously – and signed LCK jungler UmTi. The rest of the team (APA, Yeon, and CoreJJ) remained intact.

Coming into 2024, Team Liquid had a relatively slow start. They struggled to find their footing during the regular split and finished it with a 7-7 record, which just barely allowed them to clinch the final spot in the upper bracket.

Their first playoff match was against none other than FlyQuest, who had finished first place in the regular season. Despite bringing the series to a game 5, however, Team Liquid failed to seal the deal in the end. They lost 2-3 to FlyQuest and were sent down to the lower bracket.

“I was expecting to win, but I was also expecting to lose,” Yeon said about the FlyQuest match. “To be honest, I had very low expectations, so I was just playing for the sake of playing, with the intention of only looking forward towards our goals.”

Still, there’s much to be gained from losses, and Team Liquid proved that they were nothing but gain from thereon out. With three consecutive lower bracket wins against Dignitas, 100 Thieves, and LCS powerhouse Cloud9, Team Liquid managed to make an incredible run all the way to the Grand Finals. There, they stood against FlyQuest once again – only this time, things were different. The revenge match ended in a dominant 3-1 victory for Team Liquid, and for the first time since 2019, they stood at the top of the LCS as champions.

“It was the goal, but we had realistic expectations,” APA said. “Don’t get me wrong, it was definitely the goal to win. Before we played 100 Thieves [in the LCS playoffs], I said in an interview that there’s definitely a chance to win when we were Top 4.  My ego was not that big enough for me to say that we were 100% going to win, but I had a feeling that we were going to win.”

Team Liquid has gotten accustomed to slow starts, both during the regular split and the playoffs. They’ve also gotten used to needing to accelerate fast; the road to each championship isn’t as long as we’d like it to be.

“It was definitely a slow start for us, where I think we just needed to find our footing during the regular split, and I was definitely improving throughout the course of the regular split,” APA said. “I think we just started slower than we initially wanted to, kept ramping up, and once playoffs started, I think our performance ramped up really fast.”

Rookies and veterans: Team Liquid’s new form

In any sport, there are teams that are full of incredible individual talent, but somehow don’t find success as a unit. This problem was very evident with Team Liquid’s roster in 2022, where the much-touted “superteam” made up of Bwipo, Santorin, Bjergsen, Hans sama, and CoreJJ not only failed to win an LCS title but failed to qualify for Worlds.

A scaled-back rebuilding effort in 2023 saw the team employ a mix of big names and rookie, academy system talent. 2023 was not a landmark year either for Liquid, but the org did return to Worlds. The goal of Team Liquid’s 2024 roster was to continue finding their footing and give the rookies more time to grow. A part of that growth was swapping out younger players Summit and Pyosik with veterans Impact and UmTi. These players became cornerstones for the new TL, a point to build identity around and to stabilize and support the rookies.

“Personally, I’d talk with Impact a lot about the game,” APA said. “Whether it’s just general things about the game, or specifically about side laning and roam timers, on how they can specifically help me or him. He’s just a really great resource to have. He’s played the game for so long and is so knowledgeable about the game that just talking with him throughout the split has definitely elevated my gameplay. UmTi’s similar. He’s a veteran player with years of experience in the LCK, with a great personality. We’re a team that has players and coaches with very strong character, and having someone like UmTi to naturally mediate disputes or whatever really helps. He’s also a very emotional guy, and it became a tradition for us to give each other a big hug after every win.”

During his time in the LCK, UmTi was memed as the “Pre-15 Best Jungler in the World,” due to how, despite his massive influence in the early game, his team often looked lost later on. That’s where Impact comes in. His expertise and intricate knowledge about the game have helped the team figure out what they need to do in order to capitalize on their early game leads. 

“Having a top side, especially one that has clear direction, is definitely reliable,” Yeon said. “UmTi would lead throughout the early game, and would continue to give great opinions on mid-late game; Impact would always have great information during teamfights and try to give the most feedback, especially during review. They’re veterans, so they bring a lot that contributes to our growth.”

The addition of UmTi and Impact has definitely paid dividends for Team Liquid; not only did they back it up with their gameplay, it also elevated the way the team absorbs feedback and helped them be on the same page. Now, after conquering the LCS, Team Liquid faces similar trials on the international stage.


Coach Spawn: The glue that holds the team together

Another big change came from the sideline. Jake “Spawn” Tiberi, who once helmed Team Liquid’s Academy/Challengers team, was promoted to Head Coach of the LCS roster for 2024. Although Spawn had full control over how he wanted the Academy team to play, things were different on the LCS roster.

“Spawn is a very different coach on the LCS team compared to when I was under him during academy,” APA said. “He was very strict on the academy team, and his words were absolute when it came to what’s going to happen in the game. However, as we came into the LCS team, it’s a lot easier to ‘ego’ on players like me, in comparison to world-class players like CoreJJ, Impact, and UmTi, all of whom have been playing for a decade at this point.”

Nevertheless, Spawn has proven why he’s one of the key pieces of the Team Liquid puzzle. Despite not having as authoritative a voice with the LCS roster, he’s become the glue of the team, both through his in-game knowledge and the charismatic leadership that he brings to the table.

“I think he’s very knowledgeable about the game,” APA said. “I think something that’s crucial about him is that he makes sure we’re all on the same page. He did that with our academy team, and I think he did that successfully with our LCS team as well.”

“He was a great mentor, especially in the beginning of my career,” Yeon said. “We came to the point where there’s a great level of mutual respect with him and I. The relationship that I have with him is full of mutual trust, and is very professional. Of course, we’re friends too when we aren’t in work mode.”

A great team is always led by a great leader. Spawn has proven himself at the top level in North America – now he has to do the same thing at MSI.


The Trashtalker versus The King

Historically, in LoL Esports, North America has struggled to perform well internationally. The gap between the West and the East is all too real, even to this day. Despite some LCS and LEC teams fielding superteams chock full of world champions, it sometimes feels like that gap only gets wider. Just recently TOP Esports cleanly dismantled Team Liquid in a neat 3-0 that would silence a lot of players.

But APA isn’t in the habit of being intimidated. During their LCS Playoffs run, APA became legendary for talking big —  and backing it up. APA trash talked every mid lane in the tournament, including those that had trounced him in the past. Whether the trash talk worked or not didn’t matter to APA. It still doesn’t matter — APA will trash talk anyone.

Coming into MSI, he has his sights set on the biggest target possible, the Demon King of League, the unanimous GOAT: Faker. 

“A rematch vs Faker would be nice,” said APA, who first faced off against the formidable mid laner at Worlds 2023. “There’s a solid chance that we face T1, so a rematch vs him would be fun. He’s past his prime.”

It’s bold to talk smack about the best mid laner to ever do it, especially given the gap between East and West, as well as the 3-0 loss to TOP Esports. However, the talk might be part of what fuels the new Liquid. In a post-game interview, APA pinned the rough series on Liquid not playing nervously and not to their full strengths. Liquid unlocked their LCS-winning form not with a clean, quiet style but an aggressive and loud one, where they took fights often and set up for skirmishes regularly. The new Liquid is a team that, in order to win, needs to be hungry, needs to be out for blood, needs to decry the kings and superteams. 

For APA to call for the crown from the loser’s bracket? That might be the spirit that Liquid needs to have to reach their final form. 

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