Team Liquid could not be surging at a better time. After a League Championship Series Summer Split defined by mid-season adjustments and tumult, Team Liquid has tore through its first two opponents in the 2021 LCS Championship. After dispatching of Cloud9 and TSM 3-1, TL has qualified for the League of Legends World Championship, which will be hosted in China this fall.
After qualifying for Worlds 2021, Team Liquid top laner Barney "Alphari" Morris spoke to Inven Global about returning to a full-time LCS starting position on the team and the squad's rampage through the LCS Championship.
TSM really focused on having red side for top lane counterpick in the first two games of the series, but it fell flat and you guys won both games. Is this something you expected and planned against as a team?
Yeah, for sure. I think TSM is the main team, aside from us, to have played through top for most of the year, and I think they are actually the only team aside from us who is actually good at playing through top because their support and jungle mesh well with Huni. I also think that Huni is the best 1v1 laner aside from myself in NA, so it makes sense that they do this.
That's kind of been the story of TSM all year long. I wasn't surprised that they tried to play through top and that the series was bloody around top. It was like this when we played them in the Mid-Season Showdown, and since then, both teams have only improved their early game. So yeah, it was nothing particularly surprising.
In my interview with Santorin last week, he said the basic gameplan against Cloud9 was to win early because C9 doesn't play well from behind. TSM, on the other hand, plays at a more measured pace.
How did you adjust your gameplan from one series to the next, and was there anything you were able to learn in the win against C9 that helped against TSM?
I don't think our style changed too much from the C9 series. Both C9 and TSM have very obvious points of strength and play through their lanes very obviously in the early game. C9 always plays through mid, while TSM plays to get Huni ahead, so I suppose we had more emphasis on the top side in this series compared to the series against C9 where we had a lot more flexibility.
Also, there's a lot less threat when playing against Fudge, but I think our style was pretty similar. We just had to be more respectful of their top, jungle, and support this series in the early game because they would rather make fights happen and they take a lot of skirmishes early. Even if they don't win, even when they should win, they will play aggressively, whereas C9 just play through mid. I don't think we changed our style too much anyway. We just played our game and we played better.
What was the process like after taking a break, getting back into competitive shape, and eventually taking over as the full-time starting top laner for Team Liquid once again?
I was never out of shape individually. This is my opinion, obviously, but I think the reasons I was given for being benched were quite disingenuous. Personally, I think the follow-up from the coaching staff was very, very bad, and it just put me in a situation where I wasn't really sure if I wanted to play or not. I had to think about it for a very long time because I held some resentment towards how things were communicated to me.
I suppose finding the motivation to want to play was the only real complication. In my mind, there was never any issue with my individual play. Competing for a spot is not really competing for a spot. In my mind, it's me competing against myself because I think I'm very good if I try and put in effort. Even if I don't put effort, I would say I'm still better than most players in NA. It was never a confidence issue.
I was never particularly worried about playing for a spot, and I think that's the mindset you have to have as a competitor. Fundamentally, if I'm not good enough, then I'm going to lose my job anyway. It's not like having the immediate pressure of a substitute is going to change that. If I have a bad split or I'm not performing, then I'm out of a job, so you always have to have confidence in yourself and you always have to be able to play and perform.
I didn't feel any pressure. I was pretty happy for Jenkins to play. I think he's a decent player and I really enjoy practicing with him. I was very happy that he got to show that he's good enough for LCS on stage and got some experience. I think it was great for him, and I hope to see him in LCS next year on a team as a starter. I think he deserves it compared to many other tops in the league.
But yeah, it was basically just about deciding if I really wanted to play or not. Things changed — I took some time off, and there were some movements within the team — and I decided that I wanted to commit and I wanted to win. Then, I started full-time.
In my interview with Kold earlier this split, he said it was a good thing that you had time off and that it was needed. Regardless of whether you agree with this, did you find there were any personal or professional benefits in your time away from competing?
100%. I benefited from the time off. I think if the conversation had been approached in a different way, the reasons given were genuine, and if a follow-up from a particular coach was actually there and respectful, then I don't think I would have had too many problems with the situation.
Although, obviously, this is hindsight. I don't exactly know how I would have reacted because my mindset was pretty bad at the time. I was bouncing back and forth a lot between emotions after I got benched, so I don't know how I would react. But the time off was nice, for sure. I was in a very strange spot. I did have time off in between splits, but I was dealing with a very hard situation with my family. I was very stressed and unhappy.
Also, I think how nonstop the regular season format is and how unimportant each game feels really does not sit well with me. I enjoy games on stage, but I think there were too many. Three games per week for nine weeks is too much and there are barely any stakes involved, whereas in playoffs, the games are actually important and the teams are good.
I didn't mind taking time off because I wasn't really enjoying playing too much anyway. I was very stressed out for many different reasons due to the team, my personal life, my family, and just life in general. It was nice to just chill, I suppose. However, while I say 'chill' it was stressful because of how it was communicated to me and because of how it was handled. It was an interesting experience, for sure.
So your issue was more with how the situation was handled than the situation itself?
I agree that there were benefits to taking time off. I think this is true, and I enjoyed it, but I did not get benched for having time off. I got benched for what I was told were performance and attitude reasons. I was benched after one game without the team being consulted, and I thought it was bullsh*t. I thought the reasonings were bullsh*t, and then, there was no communication to me from the coaching staff for a week after the benching. I thought that was also bullsh*t.
But yeah, the time off was nice.
This summer shared a similarity to your last summer with Origen, where despite you performing well, there were things out of your control that affected the team. While the situations were different, do you feel like your experience on Origen helped you deal with everything that happened this summer?
Potentially, but not a ton. I suppose it would have had to in the way that each experience shapes me, but I don't think I drew on the experience very much. I think the circumstances of what happened this year were very different with me being stressed out and unhappy, as well as my coaching staff being… very peculiar. Let's say that. It was just a new experience and had nothing to do with any other experience I've had in the past.
Obviously, I've had disappointing Summer Splits before. I'm used to failure, I suppose. But none of that has anything to do with what happened this year. Each year is different and is just about how I make the most out of these opportunities and what I choose to pursue.
I appreciate your perspective on everything that has happened, but my last few questions are in regards to the future. After beating TSM, you told Dash that you weren't too concerned about your match next week against 100 Thieves and that you actually expected Evil Geniuses to win instead. Do you think EG still has a chance to qualify for Worlds in a lower bracket run?
I'm sure EG can still make it. I think EG, TSM, and C9 are all strong enough, and it just depends on which teams prepare well and show up on the day. If I had to guess, I would probably say C9 will be the last NA team to qualify for Worlds. I think it will be C9 vs. TSM in the lower bracket final, but I still think EG has a chance. If IMT made it, I'd be surprised, but I think they still have some potential. Most likely, TSM beats IMT, C9 beats EG, and then C9 wins. That's probably what's going to happen.
As someone who has beaten both C9 and TSM, why do you think C9 will win against TSM should that end up being the matchup?
I think TSM have shown the same weaknesses and the same style all year long. I think C9, having lost last week, will take the opportunity to improve. I think they will improve faster in the next week or so, whereas, if TSM would have lost last week and had more time to change their style, buckle down, and focus on what players are actually doing consistently wrong every game, then they would be in a better spot.
However, C9 has a lot of experienced players like Perkz and Zven. They have a good coaching staff from what I've heard and I've worked with mithy before. I fully expect C9 to learn a lot from our series, and they've played Golden Guardians, as well. I just think that given the growth C9 can make compared to TSM is better, and for that reason, they will probably win. But like I said, EG, C9, or TSM is a coin flip.
Thanks for your time and your honesty, Alphari. Is there anything you want to say to the TL fans now that your team has qualified for the World Championship?
Thanks for being supporters. I'm really glad we were able to qualify for Worlds — not just for myself, but for the team and for the fans, too. The messages of support do mean a lot. We read all of them, so thank you for that. I'm just glad we were able to win, and we're probably going to win it all, so I'm pretty decent right now.
Note: This interview previously featured the name of G2 Esports support Mihael "Mikyx" Mehle in one of Alphari's answers. Alphari was actually referring to Cloud9 head coach Alfonso "mithy" Aguirre Rodríguez, who played with Alphari on Origen during his playing career. This mistake has been rectified in the interview text.
All images by: Colin Young-Wolff/Riot Games via ESPAT