The Deep Dive: Week 8a

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What’s Wrong With Team Liquid?

Team Liquid currently holds a 6-8 record in the 2020 LCS Spring split, tied for seventh with the Golden Guardians and at risk of missing the playoffs entirely. This is a team that was almost universally expected to win a fifth domestic title in a row, or at least make the Finals, and they’re tied with a group that was almost universally expected to finish 10th. What’s wrong with this team?

Saying the Spring split doesn’t matter is a cop-out. Doublelift was benched for starting the season with that attitude, but he came back claiming to be motivated and Liquid still managed to roll over and die against a slumping Immortals squad on Monday. There is too much talent on this roster to allow for such lame excuses, and if motivation truly is an issue across the team–about which I can only speculate–then that would raise a big red flag about the way coaching and management has been handling things.

I’m looking for more concrete explanations for why Team Liquid is wavering on the edge of a playoffless Spring split catastrophe, and there’s plenty to point at beyond Doublelift.

Blame Broxah?

In the first few weeks, Team Liquid had the natural excuse of Broxah’s visa issues, but it’s been a month since that situation was resolved; the timeline for applying the visa excuse has passed. We have seen improvement since Broxah showed up, but not enough, and not in the right places.

Since Broxah’s arrival, Team Liquid have made clear improvements to their early game, improving from a subpar early-game rating (EGR) of 40.6 to a very respectable 57.1. Their EGR has benefited from more First Bloods and First Dragons and better Rift Herald control, leading to a swing of +1,441 in their average gold difference at 15 minutes.

Team Liquid Early-Game Stats, LCS Spring 2020

Jungler EGR GD15 HLD FB FD
Shernfire 40.6 -495 33% 33% 33%
Broxah 57.1 +946 44% 50% 63%

LCS Spring 2020 regular season, weeks 1 to 7

But despite these substantial gains, Team Liquid haven’t improved their ability to perform in the mid and late game. Based on their EGR, TL have performed around 7 percentage points below their expected win rate with both junglers (mid/late rating, or MLR, of -7.2 with Shernfire and -7.1 with Broxah).

Team Liquid Stats, LCS Spring 2020

Shernfire 2-4 -7.2 -0.39 -1.0 41% 67%
Broxah 4-4 -7.1 +0.67 +5.0 38% 50%

LCS Spring 2020 regular season, weeks 1 to 7

Team Liquid’s advanced gold stats have improved with Broxah–they are playing with larger gold leads more of the time, based on their GPR, and they are finishing games with better gold spent numbers, based on their GSPD–but crucially, their objective control has been worse, with slightly lower overall dragon control despite getting first dragon more often, and only 50% Baron control.

The explanation for this mid/late struggles can be attributed to an assortment of issues from game to game. Most frequently, they have lacked side lane priority, which reduces their options on the map and forces them to resort to team fighting, but from an inferior map position. Side lane control is the responsibility of the solo laners, which brings us to the next key topic.

Team Liquid’s Solo Lane Struggles

Team Liquid hasn’t been getting enough from their solo lanes to show that they are still a championship-caliber team.

Overall, Jensen has been Liquid’s most reliable player this split, but Liquid need him to be more than reliable: they need him to single-handedly win them some games. My criticisms of Jensen are minimal, and follow a theme that has been consistent throughout his career: he does a great job of winning his lane and carrying games when he gets to play in a straight line, but he isn’t doing enough to transfer his own advantages outside of his lane with roaming and synced-up play with his jungler. Some of the blame for that falls on the jungler and on the team’s overall game plan, but it’s fair to challenge Jensen to step up and assert himself on the map more effectively.

There’s more to say about TL’s top lane. From giving up multiple solo kills to Ssumday in a week 3 loss to 100 Thieves to ineffectual team fight engages, Impact has really struggled at times in 2020. He certainly hasn’t played badly every game, but he has been inconsistent, and to me his weak showings have been more visible than his strong ones.

Historically, Impact has been a low-resource top laner who could lose his lane matchup gracefully, give up the minimum when subjected to ganks and tower dives, and still contribute well in later stages. In the last couple of splits, he has worked harder to shift his style into someone who can be more assertive in lane, giving his team greater flexibility. His laning stats in Summer 2019 were a substantial improvement on his previous three splits with Team Liquid, and he has further built on that momentum in Spring 2020. Liquid have tried to play around that in recent games, as well, giving Impact jungle help from Broxah.

Impact’s Regular Season Stats with Team Liquid

Spring 2018 3.6 66.8% 21.1% +74 8.5 24.0%
Summer 2018 3.8 70.1% 20.2% -155 8.6 24.3%
Spring 2019 4.3 53.2% 22.1% -91 8.1 21.9%
Summer 2019 4.6 66.8% 22.8% +291 7.9 27.7%
Spring 2020 2.8 55.1% 20.9% +348 7.1 24.4%

LCS Spring 2020 regular season reflects weeks 1 to 7

The problem is that the resources being invested into Impact aren’t paying the same dividends this split: his damage share, kill participation, and CS per minute have all noticeably regressed compared to Summer 2019. He is getting leads, but he isn’t converting those leads into further advantages. That’s partly due to his champion pool, which has mostly equipped him for team fighting rather than side-laning. Aside from two games of Mordekaiser and one each on Aatrox, Kennen, and Gangplank, Impact has played Ornn (4), Sett (4), and Zac (1). Liquid’s record with Impact on carries is 1-4, while they are 5-4 in the other nine games.

To reclaim the success Liquid and Impact have had together in the previous two years, it might be more effective to take a step back and once again relegate Impact to a low-resource role, asking him to play the way he did against CLG in week 4, rather than the way he played in week 3 against 100 Thieves.

It’s not a feel-good solution, since Liquid clearly intended to diversify their play style and make themselves less formulaic and predictable, but at a certain point–like when you are sitting just outside the playoffs with four games to go–the wins become more important than the way you get them.

The Takeaways

All things considered, Team Liquid still have an opportunity to right the ship and secure a playoff spot. Their remaining four games come against Evil Geniuses, Golden Guardians, FlyQuest, and Cloud9. A 3-1 record would put them in a good spot, but they’ll need help if they go 2-2. For now, their fate is in their own hands, but it might not remain that way.

In order to pick up those three wins, Team Liquid should simplify their preparation and focus hard on two main adjustments:

  • Reallocate resources from top lane to bottom lane
  • Use Jensen’s mid lane power to start influencing the rest of the map more effectively

It really is a matter of keeping things simple and finding a comfort zone. But if Team Liquid can’t get into that zone for week 8, they’re going to find themselves out of time.

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