In week 7 of the 2022 LCS Spring Split, Team Liquid became the second team to qualify for the LCS Spring Playoffs after Cloud9's qualification in the previous week. TL's win over Counter Logic Gaming punched their post-season ticket, but a loss to FlyQuest the following day ensured that they would have to settle for holding sole possession of 2nd place behind 1st place Cloud9.
After the post-season clinching win over Counter Logic Gaming, Team Liquid jungler Lucas "Santorin" Larsen spoke to Inven Global about the team's improvements since the full-time return of starting support Jo "CoreJJ" Yong-In, the changes to the competitive jungle meta, and how the jungle changes have affected other roles.
I'm here with Santorin after a win that earned Team Liquid a spot in the LCS Spring Playoffs. You mentioned on stage just now to Gabriella “LeTigress” Devia-Allen that you felt this game showcased superior team play compared to previous TL wins. Would you attribute the cleanliness of the win to getting settled in to CoreJJ being a full-time starter once again?
I believe so. For me, it's always weird to play with many different iterations of a starting roster. For example, in the Lock In tournament, we had many different rosters that started for the team, and when you do play with so many different players, you kind of stop yourself from developing a team identity. You don't really understand what your five players do best.
Now, finally, we are able to play with our full roster and we know exactly what we are good at, what we could be better at, and everyone knows each other really well. This makes a lot of things much easier, even right from the draft phase. We already know what we want to do, so it's a lot easier to play the game. I think that's why we're starting to slowly become a very dominant team. There is still a long way to go, and this win here was only a win against CLG, but I feel really confident.
I feel like there was some stabilization when TL settled on starting Team Liquid Academy support Bill "Eyla" Nguyen in place of CoreJJ and using that roster until CoreJJ got his green card, but Eyla told me he was less vocal than CoreJJ. Your mid laner Søren "Bjergsen" Bjerg also told me that he felt he had to do more in communications without CoreJJ in the lineup. Is that something you had to adjust to in that way as well?
When I joined Team Liquid, I feel like I started voicing less things in the game because CoreJJ just does such a great job of keeping everyone on the same page.
This makes my job a lot easier because Core will do a lot of the game plans, then I can just add to it or I can suggest we do something else instead. I have so much more time to think about our next moves because he is always drilling in what he wants to do in the game, which is a nice way of doing things.
If I'm the guy who makes a call, I think that 99/100 times that it will be a good call. I like this style more because I don't have to make calls that I think might not be as good as that, and instead, I get more time to think about what I want to do in the game, which helps me a lot.
On top of that, I played with CoreJJ last year, so it feels very natural for me to play with him. We've gotten to a point where we view the game in very similar ways, so anytime he's making a call I think the same thing and vice-versa. It makes it very easy to play.
Do you think your previously established synergy with CoreJJ from the 2021 season has helped him re-integrate into the starting roster this spring?
100%. In any team I've played on, the hardest thing as a jungler is being really good with your support and vice-versa. The way you move around the map, and specifically, every single move you do while your waves are pushing, matters a lot. You will see a lot of teams mess that up, but you won't even realize in the game that they're making a mistake.
For example, let's say the support roamed on a bad timing — if I'm not there, then nothing happens. Similarly, if I'm somewhere at the wrong timing and the support isn't there, then nothing happens. In these situations, you don't really get to see good moments in terms of synergy, but if we're both going somewhere at the same time, that's when the magic happens.
It feels a lot easier to do this with Core because he is paying attention to me. He will match up with me when I'm ready to go somewhere.
The jungle meta has changed in the last few patches. How does having junglers like Hecarim, Udyr, and Viego at the front of the meta in place of champions like Lee Sin and Xin Zhao change how you navigate the early game?
I'm still on the Hecarim train. I think he's a very strong character, which is why you see teams, no matter which region they play in, banning him or picking him in their first round.
You want to pick this champion because it is very strong and flexible, but there are still a lot of game plans against this character. For example, in this game, we invaded Hecarim early on and suddenly he wasn't as strong without his full-clear. When Hecarim can hit level 6 very early in the game, it's really hard to play against. The jungle meta is a lot more flexible now than before, which I really enjoy.
Earlier in the season, junglers who built Goredrinker were too superior to the others, but now, you're seeing champions like Diana, Nocturne and Volibear coming back into the meta. There are so many different flexible picks that you can pretty much pick whatever you want and you are able to have a good game.
In recent past, you had to pick certain champions that were available because if you let the opponent pick it you would just feel miserable. Now, it feels like you can go out of your way to pick different champions you feel confident in, and I really enjoy that.
Do you think that change was brought about entirely by the nerfs to Goredrinker, or were there other compounding factors?
Goredrinker was a big one, but there have also been small nerfs to junglers over time. Xin Zhao has gotten hit a couple of times recently, and these kind of things slowly wittle a champion down. However, that doesn't mean those champions aren't good, that just means that you don't pick them in the first round of the draft every single game.
I like when champions are on an equal level because counterpicks matter more. You can lock in an answer that is a really good matchup into your opponent, whereas before, some champions were so strong that a counterpick doesn't even really feel like a counterpick, so instead, you just pick another strong character regardless of matchup.
I really enjoy the increased diversity because you can see a difference in playstyle. For example, Contractz recently locked in Rek'Sai against Lee Sin, and Volibear has been played more in general. There is a lot more room to pick niche picks that fit a player's individual style.
You spoke on stage to LeTigress about how you feel that the deep champions pools for the individuals on TL make the potential for being able to master multiple styles higher than other teams in the LCS. Does that make figuring out what to pick easier or harder in a team context?
I think there is definitely more pressure because you need to expand your champion pool and think ahead of the state of the game and also makes it continue to evolve. For example, we're playing so many different champions in scrims, but we also need to just focus on a couple at a time because there are so many you can pick and you only have four days of scrims per week.
You can't test everything, so you have to limit your champion pools. I think that was one of the bigger struggles for us. We were trying so many different picks and at some point, it just gets too crazy and we get lost in the sauce. On the other hand, focusing on the best picks in that situation makes you a better team. If you're just focusing on what you think could potentially be good just because you can play it, you have a greater chance of ending up not playing the optimal champions.
Personally, I've really enjoyed playing on this team because we have a lot of really good ideas. Everyone has a clear way of how they want to play the game, which makes it easier to pick the right champions based on how everyone views the game.
You have a deep champion pool yourself, but both of your solo laners have champion oceans. Does that change how you approach competitive play?
The jungle meta has been somewhat stale until now. The same champions have popped up again and again, and because of that, I feel like solo lane counterpicks matter much more because unique picks can really change the lane matchups.
I've been practicing a lot of different stuff, but I haven't shown a lot of it on stage because it just makes sense for me to pick a few certain champions as long as they are available. However, that doesn't mean I'm not experimenting in an effort to have different picks ready, but in general, the way I see it is that my solo laners will be very happy if they can pick their counterpicks.
It makes things a lot more natural than if I prioritize my niche pick because then they need to adapt to my pick. That can still work, but my counterpick may not be as favorable as one of their counterpicks as of now. There's a give-and-take, and I've always been fine with taking the shorter stick and being happy if my teammates are happy. In playoffs, however, there may be times where I take the counterpick and they'll have to adapt to that.
In regards to that give-and-take with champions picks, Bjergsen mentioned in my interview with him a few weeks back that he felt he hadn't had a chance to shine individually yet because the team simply hasn't needed him to do anything but scale on control mages. Today, we saw Bjergsen on Ahri, where his playmaking mattered much more to the team's success. How does this change the way you play in terms of mid/jungle synergy?
Yes, and this is what I love! Back in 2015 when I played with Bjergsen, he'd always play Ahri, Fizz, Zed, LeBlanc — all these assassins, and he's really good on these champions, which always forced me to play around mid. I love playing around mid; it's my favorite lane to play around, so I'm really happy he picked one of those champions.
First of all, I know that if I invest in mid lane, he will make sure he's carrying the game if he gets a lead, and second of all, he just plays these champions so well. I love when Bjersgen is playing Ahri and other similar champions. The way he plays them is excellent.
Do you think the changes to the jungle meta will further change the way mid lane is played due to the importance of the coordination between the two roles?
Yes, because some of the Goredrinker champions like Xin Zhao are really good with control mage mid lane champions. That's why Bjersgen has been on control mage duty — I'd pick Xin Zhao a lot, so he would play Zilean or another control mage.
Now that Xin Zhao has been nerfed and we're seeing more Hecarim, Volibear, Lee Sin, Viego — champions that have a lot of skirmish power early as well as good gank setup, it's a lot harder to play control mages in the mid lane because all of the aforementioned jungle champions are really good at punishing those types of mid lane matchups.
If the opponent is playing Orianna, I'm going to either kill him or burn his Flash on these champions, and then the opponent can't play the game for the next five minutes. The jungle changes have resulted in a lot more mid lane picks of Ahri, LeBlanc, Vex — champions that synergize better with the current jungle picks, but are also better against the current jungle picks.
I love the differentiation because I've played so much Xin Zhao. I'm like, 'Please no more Xin Zhao!' I actually don't like playing this champion, but it's just looked like the right pick every single time I've picked it. I'm happy that there have been changes to the meta.
Your insights are always appreciated, Santorin. Is there anything you want to say to the Team Liquid fans?
I'm really happy we can play with our full roster now. Obviously, we have long-term goals of doing well at Worlds, but personally, I really want to win this split. I know I've won both Lock In tournaments, but I have not won a split since 2015, so I really want to win this spring and this summer, as well. Still, I'm taking it one step at a time, but we're all looking at the year as a whole.