Team Liquid came into its first match of the 2021 League Championship Series Championship against Cloud9 as a slight underdog, and it was understandable.
After all, TL's summer split was a rollercoaster, featuring many roster moves including a medical sidelining of jungler Lucas "Santorin" Larsen and a mid-split resignation by head coach Joshua "Jatt" Leesman. The team has been playing with its full roster the past few weeks, but it was questionable whether it would return to peak form.
Team Liquid came out of the gate strong against Cloud9, showcasing possibly its strongest form of the year as a team in a dominant 3-1 victory over the reigning LCS champion. Santorin, who was awarded player of the series, capped off the win with a game 4 Baron Nashor steal to solidify TL's triumph. After the win, Santorin spoke to Inven Global about Team Liquid's game plan against Cloud9 and the challenges he's faced in balancing his health with returning to competitive play.
While I'm sure you came into this series confidently, did you expect to perform to the elite level you did individually in this series?
I don't think I can describe how happy I am. My whole fear this split has been my health issues not allowing me to be able to perform in time. Me coming back, playing poorly and letting my team down has always been a big fear for me, so I'm really stoked that we're doing pretty well now. Sure, there's a lot to improve, but we're on the uprise.
I was kind of afraid I'd put my team into the gutter. [laughs] There were definitely times where I wasn't confident because we only had two weeks to play together before our match against C9. I honestly didn't know what to expect because I think that our peak, I think we are really, really strong as a team, but we only had two weeks to play.
I think the whole mentality of the early game draft was that if Cloud9 had the stronger early game draft, they are one of, if not the best team in NA to just take over the game and close it out clearly. However, if we had the better early game composition, we felt that they wouldn't really know how to play from behind. That was our mindset going into this series.
While there was a disadvantage in synergy, do you think your excitement to return to competitive play improved the team atmosphere after a tumultuous summer full of changes?
Yeah, I'd say I gave a lot of momentum. I think the biggest thing for me is that we barely played with our whole squad this split. We played one game with Alphari this summer before he took a break, then I took a break, and this was the first time we've had all five of us together for game since. That in itself gives us a lot of motivation since we won the LCS Lock In with this roster and it also gives us some momentum.
We haven't lost a series with this full roster in a very long time, and we all believed upon signing our contracts that this roster is really good and able to win LCS, so that definitely helps. The only issue is that I came back really, really late. I was hoping I'd start feeling better a little quicker, so it's a matter of if we can get good enough in this short amount of time. So far, I feel like we've done a good job.
After the match, you mentioned on the analyst desk that you felt you were playing at about 85-90% of your top level. How does your current level of health compare to that, and what is the day-to-day like with your health during the current competition? If you had any problems today, they certainly didn't show in the match.
[laughs] First of all, I appreciate that. When it comes to my health issues, one of the reasons I don't feel at 100% is because we still don't completely know what's going on in my body and why I have what I have. Team Liquid has helped me tremendously in trying to figure out what the issue is, and because we don't know the issue, we have to do a lot of different things that could potentially help. This means I've missed a decent amount of time doing things that aren't playing League of Legends.
For example, when I took my health break, I didn't touch a computer for three weeks. Usually, I wouldn't even do that in the off-season. I feel like my level of play has scaled with my health to a degree, but I also think I'm taking so many precautions because I don't want my head to explode again.
The days I feel really tired or I feel like my head could potentially get worse, I take it a little more easy and relaxed. Usually, I'd just play a ton of solo queue in that situation and just keep grinding while hoping my head could handle it. However, I think that mentality is why my head got that bad in the beginning. [laughs] I'm just used to pushing through.
Three weeks without touching a computer might be your longest stint away from one since you started playing professionally, right?
Yeah, pretty much the longest break I had had was a week off of the pc, and that's usually when you go on vacation somewhere nice. [laughs] Usually, I spend all day, every day on my pc, even in the off-season. I'll just play other games and not League of Legends as much. When I came back, I was worried I didn't understand how the mouse worked anymore. [laughs] I felt so god damn rusty.
It was mentally hard and physically hard because after taking a big break, you have to also get good again when you come back. This meant I had to play a lot of solo queue, but I don't know how much solo queue I can play without messing up my head.
The people behind the scenes in TL helped me a lot of that. We started with me playing an hour of solo queue per day, then two hours per day, then four hours, then six hours, and then I would keep writing down how my head felt after each time I played in terms of whether it got worse. It was a really long process.
Usually, when I take a break, I come back and play fourteen hours a day. I'll just play like crazy from the get-go, whereas now, I'm in territory I've never been in before. That made it a lot more uncomfortable for me.
Has having to pace yourself differently in an otherwise grind-focused career path caused you to evaluate your time spent in terms of quality of practice?
For sure. It kind of opened my eyes. I've always been the kind of person where 'hard work' is doing as much as you possibly can — always practicing, studying, and doing all the things you can to be the best player possible. However, I also think in the past that this has led me to sleep less, be more stressed, and not take the necessary breaks my body needs.
I think this was a wake-up call for me, because now, I'm playing slightly less, but I feel like my sleep has been tremendously better. For example, I woke up before our series today and I was like, 'Wow,' because I felt good. [laughs] Usually, I've been playing so much and not sleeping enough before game days.
Back at 2015 IEM Katowice on TSM, when we won the entire tournament, I was on two hours of sleep. Now, I value my health more, and I feel like mentally being in a good spot helps me more than those two extra solo queue games or whatever it might be. There have definitely been benefits from me having this issue, though obviously, I'd clearly prefer to not have this issue. That being said, it's definitely opened my mind to performing to a higher degree.
I guess you don't have to worry too much about perfect mechanics if Team Liquid is going to play this well around Sejuani compositions, right?
[laughs] Yeah, I was definitely happy to pick Sejuani in my first game today. That's definitely one of the least mechanical champions. I was a little hesitant in picking Lee Sin game 2 because that is a champion that requires a lot of mechanics, but I was happy I could pull it off with a similar playstyle I play in solo queue. I was a little hesitant, but I was able to pull it off, so I was really happy about that.
Everyone has mentioned how happy they are to see you healthy enough to compete again, and in an interview with Travis Gafford, Counter Logic Gaming jungler Mads "Broxah" Brock-Pedersen had some particularly kind words for you. Is there anything you'd like to say to Broxah in return to end this interview?
First of all, I was very happy and excited when I heard that Broxah mentioned me in the interview. He's a very close friend of mine and honestly, even though I've been going through these health issues, I've been kind of worried for him. I know how much pain he is potentially going through right now. I've been in that kind of situation where you go from the top to the gutter, and I feel like that's where he is right now.
However, I'm also confident that he is a person who can go through this issue and come back even stronger. He's a great guy, always has a big smile, and his mentality is obviously to win. I think that if you're a winner, you always find a way to come back — I know Broxah will, too.
All images by: Colin Young-Wolff/Riot Games via ESPAT