Team Liquid currently sits at 5-4 halfway through the 2021 League of Legends Championship Series Spring Split, and while its positive record is good enough to currently maintain a seed for the LCS Mid-Season Showdown, being tied for fifth place is not what was expected of the LCS Lock In champion. Despite its inconsistencies, TL showed a rejuvenated level of play in its most recent match against Cloud9 and knocked the team out of sole possession of 1st place in a convincing win.
After Team Liquid's victory over Cloud9, head coach Joshua "Jatt" Leesman shared his thoughts with Inven Global on the current competitive jungle meta, the contributing factors of Team Liquid's less-than-stellar first half of spring, and why the team's recent performances give him confidence heading into the second round robin of the split.
Congrats on your win today, Jatt. Did the match play out as you expected?
I feel like the public expectation was that we would lose to Cloud9, and I understand why that's the case. We've had some pretty poor showings this split, and we came into this game at 4-4. However, I also think that memories can be pretty short - we beat Cloud9 in a best-of-five in the finals of the LCS Lock In only 3 weeks ago, so I was confident that we'd be able to beat them today if we could get back to playing our game. Fortunately, we were able to win.
While C9 managed to take you guys to 3-2 in the Lock In finals, I've spoken to players of theirs who thought they overreached against Team Liquid. Do you think the result of this match, despite only a single game, is more indicative of both teams' current power levels regardless of what the records show?
Actually, I think C9 is a bit better as a team than they showed against us today. I think it's going to be a battle between us, them, and the other top LCS teams right now throughout the rest of the split. The trap that I think anyone can fall into is judging too much based on a couple of weeks of best-of-1 matches.
This is further exacerbated by the format of this split, which is something the LCS has never done before. The entire 2021 LCS Spring Split takes place over only six weeks. Through three weeks of play, we are HALFWAY through this split.
We've slumped and made a lot of small mistakes that have affected our overall cohesion. We've also had a few mishaps in our 'on stage' games. In our game against Evil Geniuses yesterday, there were several winning positions on the map on which we failed to execute, so I'm happy we were able to against Cloud9 today. It balances things out a little bit, and we can look forward to the second half of the Spring Split and try and improve our consistency.
5-4 is really not good enough...4-5 would have been even worse. That's why I'm happy with the win today and happy about the future.
In addition to playing three teams per week this split, TL also had only four days between winning the LCS Lock In and the start of the Spring Split. Do you think this has been a contributing factor to the team's recent struggles?
I think it was a factor, but that's the same factor that 100 Thieves, EG, and C9 dealt with, so it's definitely not the reason we are struggling. Those teams haven't been struggling as much despite effectively having the same schedule as us, but it was definitely hard. I think it hurt our play a little bit, at least in the first two weeks. Going forward, I feel like we should be back on track.
Was it tougher to prepare for and subsequently adjust to meta swaps because of having little time between both tournaments, or was it simply a failure to execute in-game?
I think it was a little bit of both. Performance is often an accumulation of many, many small things. I can say that there is a huge amount of pressure around the time crunch of adapting to new patches when you have so many games against unique opponents at this frequency. It's something that we are figuring out as we go along, but as I said earlier, this is a schedule that no one in North America has previously experienced.
Every region has a different schedule this season, and it's our job to balance our team's improvement with winning best-of-1 matches on the day. That's a hard balance.
You're familiar with multiple iterations of the LCS format as an analyst before your coaching career, and in this format change, teams also lose a day of practice compared to previous splits. Obviously, getting used to a new format will take some adjustments, but do you think this format is objectively healthy?
I'm not sure yet. There are negatives to this format. Game days are their own animal, and practice days are completely different from them. Having enough practice time so that you can be fully prepared for LCS matches is one thing, but on the other hand, teams can learn a lot from their actual matches on stage. It's really about how you balance your time.
In previous seasons, there were four practice days and two game days, and everyone was comfortable with that. At this stage in the season, I'd say the old format felt better than this one. We can still reach a point where this format feels better for us and where we can gain more out of it as a team, but we're really not there yet.
We haven't cracked the code of feeling like we are getting the most improvements we can in this format, but overall, I do think the format changes for the 2021 LCS season are a net positive. The LCS Lock In tournament was great, and I think it's going to culminate in an exciting end to the Spring Split because of how fast it will wrap up. However, with it being so fast, it's really stressful for us. There are a bunch of pros and cons to the 2021 LCS format, so I can't make a final call on it yet.
The six-pointing of the Tiger Stance, Bear Stance, and Turtle Stance was actually a change I implemented myself.
I wanted to ask you about the jungle meta, because with Udyr running around destroying everything, I was reminded by your days on Dignitas a decade ago. Does your experience on champions that are currently meta give you an edge as a coach, or is the game changed too much for your experience as a pro player to be a factor?
*Laughs* I wish I could say yes. I wish I could say I shared tips with Santorin from my Udyr games in 2011...but yeah, that's not the case, actually. I did share some Udyr knowledge with the team, but that's because I was fairly involved with the Udyr changes during my stint with the Riot Games Competitive Balance team. The six-pointing of the Tiger Stance, Bear Stance, and Turtle Stance was actually a change I implemented myself.
The current jungle meta is incredibly farm-and-pressure focused, and Santorin knows that. I've already talked about the pace of this season, and to add even more confusion, jungle experiences changes are being implemented on the new patch we are playing on next week. We're in for a change of some kind in the meta, we're just not sure what it's going to be yet.
Is there any viability left for gank-heavy champions like Lee Sin in a competitive meta of farm-centric junglers, and do you think the experience changes in the jungle coming to Summoner's Rift on Patch 11.4 will change that?
I can say that the gank-focused playstyle on Patch 11.3, and maybe going all the way back to the 2020 World Championship, is pretty obsolete. The opportunity cost of deviating from an efficient clear multiplies throughout the game. Once you go for a gank, you've delayed your camp respawns, which will delay your next respawns, and the ones after that — you get this unintended snowball effect.
Even the very best junglers in the world will almost autopilot a full clear, which means the jungle does need to change. I don't know if what's happening in 11.4 will be able to change it, but it is 100% a nudge towards ganking junglers. With lower experience from the jungle camps, that multiplicative opportunity cost is lower.
No matter what, the changes on Patch 11.4 are a nerf to the jungle role, but comparatively, it may nudge the gank-focused junglers up a bit. That's all we know so far about the changes because we haven't scrimmed on that patch.