After another 3-3 finish at Worlds, Team Liquid and Nicolaj "Jensen" Jensen returned home without reaching the knockout stage, looking to rebuild to come back stronger for the next year. Jensen re-signed with the team and they made several other changes, including a new top side with Barney "Alphari" Morris and Lucas "Santorin" Larsen and a whole slew of additions to the coaching and analyst staff.
With all these changes heading into 2021, Jensen finds himself as one of the two longest-standing members on a team with a lot of recent success. During the off-season, he spoke to Inven Global's Parkes Ousley about his expectations in 2021 and how the team should compare to the rest of the LCS and international teams, as well as how he hopes the team will develop stylistically.
To start off, looking back at Worlds, you're the most successful player internationally playing on an NA team. So what was it like going 3-3 yet again and not being afforded a tie-breaker? What was that like for you?
The shitty part is just that we played pretty well the last few games we got to play, but at the same time it's kind of justified that we don't make it out of Groups because of how we played the first two games. While it's bittersweet to lose like that, we can't expect to get out when we lose games that we're supposed to win.
Then fast forward a couple of weeks, TL had a few big roster announcements, including you re-signing to the team and a revamped coaching staff. There were reports that you were super involved with reshaping some of the team. So were you just like, "Worlds is done, let's figure this out and make improvements!" Or did you take some time off to actually reset?
My first thought after Worlds was obviously, "What am I going to do next?" Because I obviously had to make a decision if I wanted to stay with Team Liquid or explore the free agency market. It required a lot of thinking for me personally, I couldn't just go back home and chill. I had to really think about my future and what I wanted to do.
But I mean even shortly after our Worlds exit, Team Liquid obviously wanted to keep me and they told me what their plans were for the 2021 season and it sounded very interesting to me. And I know a lot of people think it was me who demanded all these players and stuff but it was actually Team Liquid who approached me and asked me what I thought about these players before I even got to say anything myself. So yeah, it sounds great on paper so hopefully, it will work out great for us.
Of course. And now with Impact leaving and with Yiliang "Peter" "Doublelift" Peng's departure earlier on in the year, you and Jo "CoreJJ" Yong-in are the two longest-standing members on the roster. You also have a new coaching staff too with Jang "Cain" Nu-ri's departure. Do you feel like Liquid is moving into a new era and one that will be defined differently and talked about differently?
Yeah, I think so. And I also hope so. I think that TL iteration I was on — and even the year before I joined — kind of had this style that wasn't very appealing to watch I'd say. It was that slow, methodical gameplay. And to be honest, even playing it felt pretty boring at times I guess, just because it was so slow-paced. And that's not really how I like to play the game myself, either.
So with all these changes we've done, I'm hoping we can change up our style a bit as well. That's what I'm looking forward to the most. I think we kind of showed a bit of that at Worlds in the second week, but I'm hoping that moving forward we can be a different team than what we were in the past.
What is your expectation for what the team can do, specifically based on the coaching and player changes you made this offseason?
I'm expecting us to win NA, I think we should be able to do that pretty easily. But my expectations are just about our international play mainly. I'm not really thinking too much about the competition here in NA, so that's really just what I'm thinking about, and I just want us to be able to win Worlds. That's really it honestly. I've been playing for quite some time now, and that's the one thing I want that I haven't gotten yet.
Can you tell me some of your thoughts on Alphari? For the LCS fans who don't watch LEC, can you explain a bit about why Alphari coming to TL is so exciting?
From what I've seen, he seems to be a really good individual player who is also really flexible. So I'm hoping that with him we can bring on different styles of play. It's hard to really say things are going to turn out, but he seems to be a very well-rounded player that's pretty much good at any sort of style. It'll be interesting to see how we can develop with him.
It seems like the LCS is going to be another top-heavy region again with two or three teams that seem solidly above the rest. What does that do for the region, and are you concerned at all about the level of play you'll have in the regular season to prepare you for Worlds?
It's hard to say, but ideally, you have a region where all teams are super competitive or at least a few really, really good teams. But that was something we didn't have this year which kind of sucks, right? We had C9 in Spring, but honestly, the truth is there were no good teams in Summer Split in NA. This must've been the worst that NA has looked in Summer Split. I'm just hopeful that next year we'll have a competitive region. It definitely makes it harder when you get to Worlds if the good teams [in NA] aren't really good.
We weren't the best team in NA, but even the best team wasn't good. That's a problem when it comes to international play because that means there is so much more you need to learn and catch up on that you don't have too much time to do. So that's what I'm hoping for, but it's hard to say. We'll have to see what happens.
Touching back on Worlds, in the break between the first and second half, everyone said NA was doomed and terrible. But you and FlyQuest both ended 3-3 in pretty difficult groups and showed some really good games. Only TSM really failed. So then there was a conversation about how large the difference is between regions, what do you think?
I think when you go into Worlds and look at different regions, the gap is pretty big usually. But as time goes on and as we get to practice more and more with the international teams, we actually become very close to them in terms of team play, skill level, whatever. And as the days go by at Worlds, you can feel the gap shrink just when you practice against the best teams. For us, when we were in our scrims, we would get better and better results against the best teams in the World. When we first got to Worlds we were just a shit team. But it feels like every time you go to Worlds you just need to catch up a bit and then you could definitely compete with them.
I don't think we're worse individually, I think it's just our style of play is too slow, or we aren't punishing enough, or we miss too many opportunities in NA. And when we come to Worlds we realize we have to play faster, we have to step it up, and we really see our mistakes and we get punished more. That's what's lacking in NA. That's what makes it really hard for us to have good results early on when Worlds starts.
This is the first time in a long time that we have more NA mids than anyone else with six NA mids in 2021. But we also have the three confirmed EU mids all still sitting at the top, with you PowerOfEvil and Perkz. But given the mix of rookies and strong veterans, what are your thoughts on mid this season?
I mean, wow. It's going to be interesting. This is probably the least competitive that the mid lane role has looked in my opinion, at least since I've been playing. Just all around. Like you said, the top European players will at least make it competitive, but yeah I think mid lane does not look like a stacked role this year.
Yeah, initially it was kind of weird, for sure. But at the same time — this is pure speculation because I don't know the reason why he retired — but I think the current schedule for a pro player isn't very appealing. So I guess that might be why he retired. That's how I put it in my head for it to make sense. He definitely didn't need to retire, he's still a really good player, so yeah that's the weird part. When you look at his play, you definitely don't think he should quit, right? So it was definitely weird at first, but it makes some sense to me why he would.
For fans who are really bored in the off-season and looking forward to next year, what is something you're most excited about? What is a successful year for you next year?
I just hope we can be a flexible team that's able to play multiple styles, something we weren't able to do before. Just be successful within NA and then take it from there. I was definitely not happy with how things went this year, so I'm hoping we can have a better next year.
You've already been to MSI Finals and Worlds Semis, so do you have to beat that to consider it a success?
Yeah, I think so. I definitely have higher expectations of myself than I did before, and I think anything is possible. So I know people might think I'm delusional or something for saying I want to win Worlds. But I really think anything is possible in the era we're in right now. It's definitely not going to be easy, but I think anything is possible. So I just want to make some good results.
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