The 2020 League of Legends World Championship concludes this Saturday, but rumblings of the preseason have already begun. The free agency window does not open until Monday, Nov. 16 at 7:00 p.m. ET, but rumors and reports of near-closed deals have already begun to turn heads.
Aside from the sudden retirement of TSM mid-laner Søren “Bjergsen” Bjerg, early offseason buzz has been dominated by Team Liquid. TL is reportedly nearing the finalization of a deal with European top laner Barney “Alphari” Morris, and has reportedly re-signed mid laner Nicolaj “Jensen” Jensen to a mammoth three-year, $4.2 million deal.
While none of the reports have been officially confirmed still, should they hold true, Alphari joining Team Liquid would mark a significant chapter in the org’s storied history. Let’s break down some of the implications of Alphari’s potential signing to Team Liquid.
The end of Impact’s watch
Jeong “Impact” Eon-young joined Team Liquid ahead of the 2018 NA LCS Spring Split, and in his three years with the organization, TL won four domestic champions, qualified for the last two Mid-Season Invitational events, and attended its first three League of Legends World Championships as an organization. Since leaving South Korea to play in the LCS after the 2014 season, Impact has been at the top of his role amongst his peers and has solidified himself as a master of weak-side play.
Impact’s performance on carry champions is proficient as well, but not quite as crisp as his weak-side play. Crucially, Team Liquid looks far more lost when playing around its top laner than it does when leaving Impact to fend for himself. Impact’s self-sufficiency and remarkable consistency in disadvantageous situations aren’t among the flashier parts of TL’s identity, but it’s an integral part of the team’s playstyle.
Alphari finished his season in 10th place in the 2020 League of Legends European Championship, but the combination of Origen’s tendency to collapse in the summer after strong spring performances and Alphari’s individual resiliency has protected him from criticism. Alphari’s tank play, especially on Misfits at Worlds 2017, is world-renowned, but his carry performances were some of the strongest of the summer despite being on the worst team in the LEC Summer Split.
Impact and Alphari are cut from the same cloth, but Alphari is younger, a native English speaker, and has arguably more upside due to his room to grow and impressive flexibility on Origen. One could make the argument that if signed, Alphari would be a pound-for-pound upgrade over Impact, but his UK citizenship would require the freeing up of an import slot. Impact is South Korean, but claimed residency after finishing up his fourth season in North America in 2018.
When it comes to freeing up an import slot for Team Liquid, one question comes to mind.
Does Broxah get the boot?
If Alphari ends up signing with TL, it points towards jungler Mads “Broxah” Brock-Pedersen parting ways with the team. Team Liquid would be absolutely out of its mind to not keep support Jo “CoreJJ” Yong-in, and the only other import on the roster is Broxah.
Broxah recovered after visa issues delayed his joining of TL by a few months, and while he eventually looked stronger throughout the year than in his first game in week 4 of the 2020 LCS Spring Split, Broxah has yet to touch his level of play he showed on Fnatic.
Broxah’s Worlds 2020 was the worst international performance of his career to date, but the jungler was also thrown an extraordinary amount of curveballs in his first season abroad. Broxah joined a stacked Team Liquid looking for an upgrade to its perceived weakest position in an international context.
Instead, TL finished in 9th place in spring, and star AD carry Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng left the team. When TL got back on its feet in summer, the team’s core identity and playstyle had changed dramatically.
It depends on what TL’s plan is for 2021, but there’s a chance that even at his best, Broxah wouldn’t be the right fit. It was not Broxah’s stylistic differences from his predecessor Jake “Xmithie” Puchero that made TL’s early game a little less sluggish. Instead, a Worlds 2020 adjustment around level 1 set-up plays and increased synergy on aggressive plays from CoreJJ and rookie AD carry Edward “Tactical” Ra.
Team Liquid’s identity continued to develop throughout the World Championship, and it’s hard to say that Broxah’s style of play is best suited for the team’s dramatic transformation heading into next season.
Establishing the Jensen era
The primary change in a post-Doublelift world for Team Liquid was the change of focus. Once known for funneling all its resources and pressure into the bot lane, TL maintained its affinity for playing around the bottom side of the map but transferred the lion’s share of resources to Jensen. TL still wins through bot lane at its best, but Jensen is no longer second fiddle to Doublelift and plays a much larger role in how his team gets to that win condition.
Jensen’s reported contract is gargantuan, but in an LCS without Bjergsen, he is the best mid laner in the region. Reports surrounding Team Liquid even imply that Jensen is involved in the team’s off-season selections and that Alphari was hand-picked as a potential option for 2021 by the mid laner.
The likeliness of Broxah leaving to free an import slot for Alphari would also explain the reports state that Jensen and the rest of TL are eyeing Lucas “Santorin” Larsen. The FlyQuest jungler is a North American resident and after multiple seasons of consistent excellence has established himself as the best jungler in the LCS.
His incredible coordination with FLY mid laner Tristan “PowerOfEvil” Schrage would be a dream come true for a resource-heavy, hard carry player like Jensen. If Jensen is involved in Team Liquid’s offseason process as reports imply, expect to hear about TL doubling its roster’s Dane count.
After a transformative 2020, 2021 marks the true beginning of the Jensen era for Team Liquid. He no longer has the Goku to his Vegeta now that Bjergsen has retired and moved on to coaching, and on paper, replacing Impact and Broxah with Alphari and Santorin would simultaneously strengthen Team Liquid while weakening another top team in the LCS in FlyQuest.
CoreJJ is Team Liquid’s ace, and Tactical is the brightest rising star in years of domestic North American debuts. However, when it comes to the team’s nucleus, Jensen is Team Liquid’s franchise player. Should TL return to its prime and secure a 5th LCS championship next spring, expect Jensen to be leading the charge to the top regardless of who is on his roster.
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