Team Liquid is the best on-paper team in the history of North American League of Legends. Back to back domestic titles in the 2018 NA LCS were overshadowed by disappointing international performances, and TL upgraded the Mid Lane and Support positions with signings of Nicolaj "Jensen" Jensen and Jo "CoreJJ" Yong-in, respectively.
Team Liquid was already the best team in North America, and after a 2-0 week 1 to begin the 2019 LCS Spring Split, the potential for this new roster is sky high. AD Carry Yiliang "Doublelift" Peng joined InvenGlobal following Team Liquid's victory over Counter Logic Gaming to discuss his new teammates, TL's 2-0 week, and roster changes around the LCS.
We're here with Doublelift following a 2-0 week 1. How are you feeling following your dominant start to LCS?
I feel pretty good. I think the team feels a little tense since the games weren't as clean as we wanted them to be. It felt like we won because the enemy team was doing really dumb stuff, and not because we were starting some amazing teamfight or making super decisive plays.
It feels a bit bad when the enemy team gives us the win, and we aren't able to practice taking it ourselves. Our coaches were disappointed, but they're happy that we went 2-0.
The results are good even if you're not exactly happy with how things played out. When you have five players working to play together, that's to be expected early on in the season, right?
I think our styles are naturally really good with each other. Jensen has a really familiar playstyle. He's a Mid Laner that takes a lot of risks, but he's insanely talented mechanically and has great laning. That's the type of player I've always wanted to play with, and I think Jensen's a pretty important piece to our team.
Also, CoreJJ is a really importance piece for me, since he's my laning partner and a World Champion Support player. Core brings so much to the table as a shotcaller that I am able to only speak up when I'm 100% sure my decision is right. Before, the team was predicated on whether or not I was able to make the right call, and I think it's really hard to do that consistently as an AD Carry.
As you stack up against better and better players, a lot more of your brainpower is going towards making sure you're not making mistakes and focusing on your own game. Because of this, I wasn't always able to make the best calls when going up against better players. But Core seems to be really in control, and individually, he's really amazing.
I don't know how he and Jensen are so good; I can't say enough about how important both of them are to our team.
Since you first joined TSM at the start of 2016, you've been put in a position of leadership. Does CoreJJ help you feel like you have less weight on your shoulders?
Yeah, I get a lot more breathing room when it comes to how i interact with the team in reviews. My feedback about what the team is doing is a lot more objective since I'm not the person who is making those calls to begin with, and I think our team environment is a lot better. I don't think I was ever made out to be a leader as a person; I shouldn't have ever been in that position. I'm a lot more comfortable with my role on the team right now.
In our interview last summer, you identified Jensen as your "target" on Cloud9. Have you pointed out the weaknesses that you identified previously now that you are teammates?
Yeah, I'm not ever really telling him how well he's doing, but I do notice his bad habits when they impact the rest of the team. I think we point each other's mistakes out pretty well, and you're going to start noticing someone's patterns as you play with them more often. With Jensen, since I played against him for so long, I was able to pick up on a lot of his habits early on.
We're all working on improving; I don't think anyone is ever going to be perfect. But helping each other out is really important, and I think our backline synergy is really good right now.
Jensen has not always had success in the big moments. Was that a concern for you when Jensen joined the team?
Jensen's past blunders in LCS playoffs are super overblown. I can remember two specific moments.
In the 2016 NA LCS Summer Finals, I was on Lucian and he flashed in and misplayed. He had been playing really well up until that point, and his entire team misplayed that team fight, but his was the most pronounced mistake.
The other one was him playing Ekko in the 2017 NA LCS Spring Finals, and he got one shot. Everyone remembers that he didn't Zhonya's, but no one remembers that he was carrying the entire game before then. No one will ever talk about that Jensen was one of the biggest reasons that series even went five games. It was Jensen vs. Bjergsen that entire series going at it in Mid, and he was playing super well.
He made one mistake, got blown up, and now it's this huge meme that haunts him forever. I know what it's like — I was carrying the game against Viktor at Worlds before I got one shotted, and now it haunts my life forever! I can sympathize with him, and I think it's more important that he has international success.
You must have understood how important it was for him to beat Cloud9 on opening day with a good performance. Were you guys aware of how important that was for him?
I'm not sure. He didn't really come off that way, but we were like, 'We have to win it for Jensen!' Maybe we ended up putting more pressure on him, but in the game, I'm not really thinking about that stuff. I'm just playing.
Of course, and that worked out for you guys this week. However, if you are the best team in NA, how are you going to find ways to improve when you don't any domestic opponents stronger than you?
Well, part of it comes down to individual skill. Raw talent of players and being able to mesh together, as well as mold to the situation depending on your opponents is important. I don't think CoreJJ and Jensen are the type of players who play to the level of their opponents. They simply play at a higher level than the normal pro, even the best.
I think one strength of playing with Core is we are able to picture how the lane would play out if we were playing against the best Bot Lane in the world. Sometimes, that doesn't really work if you aren't playing at a great level yourself, so you can't have a good picture of the situation and your perspective is just wrong. With Core, I feel like sometimes we play and everything went exactly how we planned it, so the picture is really clear.
If we were against Griffin's Bot Lane or SK Telecom T1's Bot Lane, it would go the exact same way. There may be slightly different variables, but the general layout of the lane would go exactly how we anticipated. Part of it is the individual talent of the players roster, but part of it is also keeping your goals higher than winning domestically.
Do you think CoreJJ has had an easier time adjusting to TL due to his stint as Dignitas' AD Carry in the 2015 NA LCS?
Core is really good with the team because his English is surprisingly good. I feel like a lot of people struggle communication-wise as imports, but he's really outspoken and doesn't shy away from having conversations in English. He was already a good speaker when he came here, but he's improved really fast. He likes American food, too.
Cloud9 is known for having a unique atmosphere. Did Jensen bring over a lot of the C9 culture to TL?
Jensen's a huge memer; he's really funny and chill. People may perceive him as toxic, but he's not. Our environment's a lot different than it was last year. We're a lot more friendly to each other and get along better. I don't think it's as different from Cloud9's as it was last year.
Piglet has returned to the LCS. What are your thoughts on him and his level of play thus far?
Piglet's really interesting because I think he's definitely past his prime, but he always has the potential to return to that amazing level of play. One of my first impressions I ever got of him was after he won Worlds. I didn't know much about him, but I thought he was really good.
When he came to NA, he basically sh*t-talked the region and I thought that was really rude. He came here from a superior region in South Korea, but it seems really tasteless to come to a region from Korea and then say the region sucks. It felt bad and it was obnoxious, so I always wanted to beat him and shut him up. I have no problem with being cocky, but that rubbed me the wrong way.
I'm not sure if Piglet still feels like he's too good for this, but he's clearly not. Me and CoreJJ will do well and hopefully beat him.
On the flipside of the coin, you have Bang, who has joined 100 Thieves and seems to be loving NA so far. However, after an 0-2 start, do you think 100 Thieves will need time to gel?
I think Bang's approach to being here has been really good. He's embraced things a lot, but I'm not sure how good he is anymore. He is a two-time world champion, but if you take a snapshot of how he's playing and how I've performed against him in practice, I'm not impressed. Bang just seems like a normal player; I was expecting a lot more.
We'll have to see if he can live up to your expectations. I also wanted to ask you about TSM's new Top Laner, Broken Blade. As someone whose joining of TSM harkened its own new era, did you expect him to have a good start given the pressure a new TSM player can be under?
I had no expectations of Broken Blade, so the fact that he's played so well is a pretty big surprise. I can only imagine how obnoxious TSM fans are going to be about this, but he was really impressive. To come from the TCL and be in the spot light on one of the most popular teams in the LCS is not easy, and he solo killed both his lane opponents multiple times in the first week.
I'm curious how he will do in non-Viktor matchups. Although the matchups he played, in a vacuum, are Viktor-favored, playing them on stage has a sense of nervousness. If you make one misstep, you just die, and Viktor's inherent advantage is gone. I'm not trying to discredit Broken Blade at all, but he's played against the same champion twice in very snowball-centric matchups. He's really good, but I have a lot of faith in Impact to not make those type of mistakes.
Zikz, long-time Head Coach of CLG, has joined TSM. As someone who worked with Zikz, can you see his coaching having a positive effect on the team?
Zikz has changed a lot since I played on CLG. When I was with him, he was a bit useless, but he was a cool guy. Now, he seems to be more experienced. I'm not sure how his brain works, but he's a smart guy and he's really charismatic as a person. He's a good friend, but I have no clue how he coaches a team.
Do you think TSM missing Worlds last year was a wake-up call for the organization?
I think the pressure is a bit off of TSM since the streak is not on the line anymore. I remember this from when I was on the team, and when the owner tells you, "We have never not made a final. We always win NA LCS. There's no excuse, we have to go to Worlds." That kind of pressure is really insane.
It can be good or bad. For some people, like me, that pressure motivates them a lot. But I know at the time there were some teammates who really let it stress them out and it got to their head a lot. Now that that's gone, I think the air is a bit more clear on TSM and if I was on the team, I would feel a bit more free. How much worse could it get from last year, right? There's a lot of room to grow in an environment like that.
Are there any teams in North America that you think people have pegged completely incorrectly?
I think Golden Guardians and FlyQuest are pegged as bad, but they're both really good. There are a lot of good teams in NA right now. It feels really bad when I'm on the team that's supposed to be the best, because I hate being the favorite and I love being the underdog. There are so many threats on every team.
Does North America's performance at last year's World Championship put more pressure on you, as a player on the best team in NA?
I don't think there's any pressure because Cloud9 is the outlier. They are the exception to the rule. They always make it out of groups and are able to play relatively well at Worlds, whereas every other NA team is just pretty sad. The fact that we have Jensen and CoreJJ makes me much more confident.
If there was any team in NA history who had the most potential to do well at Worlds, it was season 6 TSM. Now, it's season 9 Team Liquid.