Earlier this month, Team Liquid's League of Legends squad took a break from practicing for the 2019 World Championship to host an AMA on the League of Legends subreddit.
AD Carry Yiliang "Doublelift" Peng, Jungler Jake "Xmithie" Puchero, and Co-Owner Steve Arhancet answered questions from fans for five hours about the team's upcoming trip to the 2019 World Championship, as well as the achievements of the team throughout the season.
The Steps to Expectations
For all his domestic dominance, Doublelift is just now living up to international expectations; not only of his fans, but of himself. After satisfactory individual performances at the 2018 Mid-Season Invitational and the 2018 World Championship, Doublelift and his teammates finally put it together at the 2019 Mid-Season Invitational.
TL pulled off the biggest upset in LoL Esports history, defeating defending World Champion Invictus Gaming 3-1 in the 2019 MSI Semifinals and clinching the first North American international finals berth since Counter Logic Gaming faced off against SK Telecom T1 in the 2016 MSI Finals. However, G2 Esports refused to be outdone on the global stage, defeating SKT in a 5-game epic in the Semifinals and riding that momentum into a 3-0 stomp of Team Liquid.
The series was a stark contrast to Team Liquid's dramatic dispatching of IG and the G2-SKT odyssey that followed. The wildly different levels of competition in the series had Doublelift pondering on Team Liquid's limits as a team. "Beating IG made me think we could realistically win worlds," Doublelift said in the AMA. "And losing so badly to G2 made me think if we practiced harder or differently we could've won MSI."
Still, Team Liquid inspires confidence heading into the World Championship due to its top 2 finish at MSI, and with two more LCS titles to back it up, Team Liquid's off-season moves have paid off in the ways the organization had hoped.
In signing Nicolaj "Jensen" Jensen to the Mid Lane and former World Champion Jo "CoreJJ" Yong-In at Support, Team Liquid hoped to elevate its success beyond the domestic realm and give NA a team to be proud of internationally. Thus far, Jensen has been just as advertised, solidifying himself as the best Mid Laner in North America and winning the first two LCS titles of his career.
"Jensen can carry games and has a huge champion pool," Doublelift said in the AMA when asked about his Mid Laner. Solo carry potential and champion pool depth were not strongsuits of TL's previous Mid Laner Eugene "Pobelter" Park, and Jensen has done an excellent job being self-sufficient in the ways Pobelter was able to while simultaneously possessing the extra gear necessary for international success should the team need to prioritize playing through Mid.
Doublelift spoke volumes of CoreJJ, who towered above the rest of the LCS Supports this season. Doublelift revealed in the AMA that CoreJJ is the morale engine of the team, rallying his teammates emotionally when things get tough. CoreJJ's massive contributions to Team Liquid earned him 2019 Spring Split MVP honors. "Overall, CoreJJ is the best player and teammate I have ever played with," said Doublelift.
A vital factor in strong international performances is the level of play from one's own region. If the domestic competition is weak, a team's strongest region may be unprepared and caught off guard by the intensity and heightened level of international play. Doublelift solidified himself as the best AD Carry in North America a long time ago, but with CoreJJ at his side and the strongest team and organization of his entire career, his dominance has reached new heights.
Doublelift has turned the banter knob to 11 this season, answering a question about doing a cosplay with Cloud9 AD Carry Zachary "Sneaky" Scuderi by saying he 'had already cosplayed his daddy in the LCS Finals a few times.' However, when asked for his honest opinion about Sneaky, as well as Counter Logic Gaming AD Carry Trevor "Stixxay" Hayes and TSM AD Carry Jesper "Zven" Svenningsen, Doublelift put them all in the top 3 NA ADC conversation.
That doesn't mean Doublelift will soften his edge towards his domestic peers anytime soon: "It'd be boring if we all we did was say nice things about each other."
Eyes on the Prize
Looking towards the World Championship, Doublelift has his sights set on one AD Carry above all others: Royal Never Give Up's Jian "Uzi" Zi-Hao. "I think Uzi has the most raw skill of any ADC I've ever seen, so right now, he's the best in the world, in my opinion," said Doublelift. When further inquired about his choice, specifically in place of 'Uma Jan' — the name of an account belonging to G2 Esports Bot Laner Luka "Perkz" Perković — Doublelift merely replied, "He's cute."
However, for Xmithie, this Worlds presents a long awaited opportunity for the veteran to test his mettle against Lee "Tarzan" Seung-yong, the meteoric young Jungler on Griffin from South Korea's LCK. "I've been looking forward to playing against Tarzan for two years now," Xmithie said, mentioning that he was looking forward to the opportunity several times throughout the AMA.
For Tarzan, who only turned 20 a few weeks ago, to have the attention and focus of a Jungler of Xmithie's caliber and experiences speaks volumes towards his ability. Xmithie, the greatest NA Jungler of all time, a two-time MSI finalist fresh off of his 6th LCS title, is looking forward to testing himself at his 6th World Championship against Tarzan, who will be making his international debut.
Xmithie has been talking about facing off against Tarzan as early as last year. "I think he’s really good. I’ve studied his pathing and engages a lot," Xmithie said of Griffin's Jungler in an interview with Inven Global. "He fights around scuttle crab a lot and plays through those river skirmishes really well."
Griffin fell short in its inaugural season in the LCK and failed to qualify for Worlds 2018, but one year later, a Team Liquid vs. Griffin international matchup is something LoL Esports fans the world over potentially have to look forward to this fall.
Xmithie has played through countless metas at this point in his career, and said he'd like to see Qiyana, Amumu, and Kindred show up in the Jungle meta at Worlds. Qiyana has seen play in the Jungle here and there since her release, and Amumu is covered in legacy dust, but North American fans might remember Xmithie's proficiency on Kindred for CLG at MSI 2016. "I really hope ranged Junglers can make a comeback," Xmithie said.
According to Xmithie there is also a champion that he wants to play in the Jungle, but his team has yet to allow it. When asked, the Jungler's answer was surprising, but to the point: "Tahm Kench."
CoreJJ has picked Tahm Kench more than almost any other champion in 2019, and if Team Liquid could somehow made The River King into a flex pick, it could catch teams off guard in the best-of-one format for the Group Stage at Worlds.
However things shake down, Xmithie knows he has a lot to prove on the Worlds stage. When asked if his 6 LCS titles and 2 MSI Finals appearances made him the most accomplished player in North American history, Xmithie said, "I don't consider myself up there until I accomplish something good at Worlds."
The Journey Is What Is Motivating
Team Liquid enters the 2019 World Championship with arguably the highest hopes of any #1 seed in LCS history. The team's record-breaking run of dominance through four LCS splits has been highlighted by a strong 2019 MSI finish and a consistent rate of growth throughout the year.
TL has been valiantly steered to what is now a stellar course by Steve Arhancet. The Co-Owner shared his thoughts and reflected upon his approach in the AMA when asked about building Team Liquid into what it's become today:
"In terms of learning, I would say that I've never overstated my competencies, I try and find folks who are better at what I'm bad at, I'm inquisitive and challenging to get to the best answers. When I'm with someone who's great at something — I just ask a ton of questions without being overly annoying. Lastly, I guess when you treat people well I believe it's human nature to reciprocate.
My thought on deals and partnerships is that you design them in a way where both parties benefit. It's true though, in hindsight one party will almost always have a better 'deal', but if both parties are aligned with their intent and stay true to their commitments — this is what builds a relationship. Things will happen that were unseen or forecasted — so it's how you work on them together that leads to a strong partnerships. Strong relationships lead to better results (a bigger pie) for everyone."
If Team Liquid was to win worlds, Doublelift was asked which champion he would like a Team Liquid World Championship skin designed for him. Doublelift narrowed things down to two chooses: Lucian, arguably his most iconic pick throughout this career, and Sona, the infamous meta-breaking Bot Laner that TL utilized to much success throughout the 2019 season.
Before having to choose between the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde of his champion pool, Doublelift did say there is one thing he would have to do before anything else if Team Liquid was to win Worlds:
"Ask for a raise."
Team Liquid enters the 2019 League of Legends World Championship as the #1 seed representing North America's LCS. TL will begin the tournament in the Group Stage, which will kick off at Verti Music Hall in Berlin, Germany on October 12, 2019.