There’s a lot of bad blood between Team Liquid and their fans. If you look at other endemic NA LCS organizations, only the old Counter Logic Gaming had a similar level of notoriety.
But while CLG managed to put their bad rep behind them, Team Liquid is still haunted by the ghosts of their past. Even TL’s victory in the 2018 NA LCS Spring Split didn’t seem to fix that. Let’s look at the team’s history to break down why.
A crash course in TL
When Team Liquid entered the NA LCS in 2015, they were already a household name. Thanks to their track record in Starcraft, Brood War, Starcraft 2, and Dota 2, TL was welcomed into the League of Legends scene with open arms. And since they inherited the already developed roster and infrastructure from Team Curse, fans had high hopes for the NA LCS newcomers.
TL had a rocky start in the 2015 Spring Split. They kept switching between two AD carries in Piglet and Keith. But even with this bot lane turbulence, they managed to reach top six. They kicked off their playoff run with a confident victory against CLG, but their following series ended in a narrow 3-2 loss to Cloud9. Still, they regained their composure and defeated Team Impulse to secure the bronze medal.
Putting the fourth-place curse to rest seemed to reinvigorate Team Liquid. They stepped up and dominated the 2015 Summer Split, finishing first with an impressive 13-5 record.
If you went back in time and questioned the NA LCS fans at that point, most would say TL genuinely looked like the best team in the league.
Their success didn’t last though. The first round of the playoffs saw them crumble against the resurgent TSM lineup. And while TL could have bounced back in the regional finals, they ended up on the wrong side of Cloud9’s miracle run.
The downward spiral
Things only went downhill from there. Some say the problems started when TL parted ways with three fifths of its original roster (Quas, Xpecial, and IWillDominate). But contrary to popular belief, Team Liquid owner Steve “Liquid112” Arhancet had a good eye for talent.
Under his guidance, the organization recruited promising players like Smoothie, Dardoch, Moon, Solo, and Adrian. Even Piglet joined Team Curse thanks to Arhancet’s negotiating prowess.
TL’s 2016 Spring Split ambitions get crushed with a single play.
But while he could find the necessary firepower, Liquid112 had a hard time putting it to good use. Team Liquid fans will remember countless bizarre decisions, such as announcing Smoothie as the staring support only to move him to Academy after losing a single game.
He also put the mechanically gifted, but subdued Piglet in charge of a team of rookies. Or what about re-signing Dardoch after he voiced his lack of respect for the organization?
More bad decisions
At one point, it seemed like every Team Liquid decision was borrowed from a poorly plotted drama. The organization kept picking the exact wrong times to trust its players or make roster moves.
This never-ending string of mistakes led to Liquid playing in a promotion tournament after a very shaky 2017 Spring Split. Of course, some fans would still be willing to root for the underdogs. However, TL did something to turn even the most ardent supporters away.
They signed Doublelift.
The superstar AD carry made it clear he joined the org only for the duration of the tournament. His presence bolstered the struggling lineup, and TL managed to hold on to their NA LCS spot with a close win over GCU.
Even so, this victory left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth. It felt like Liquid bought their way back into the league. And while some argued it’s natural for the organization to do everything in its power to pull through in a do-or-die scenario, others just felt Team Liquid wasn’t supposed to be there.
One more thing
Still, that wasn’t the final nail in the coffin. That came when TL parted ways with Doublelift only to field the same roster that got them relegated in the first place.
The result? An entirely predictable drop to another promotion tournament. Liquid’s fan base became almost non-existent. After all, it’s one thing to cheer for the underdogs, but it’s a completely different story when said underdogs are actively digging their own graves.
A long road ahead
This brings us back to the present day. Even during his darkest moments, Arhancet excelled at attracting investors and major sponsorships. And the era of franchising was the perfect opportunity to put these funds to good use.
By signing of the stacked roster of Impact, Xmithie, Pobelter, Doublelift, and Olleh for the 2018 NA LCS Spring Split, the owner effectively announced he’s turning Team Liquid’s ship around.
The regular season was relatively close, but TL picked up the slack for the playoffs. They breezed through the competition to claim their first NA LCS trophy. And for the first time in a while, Arhancet could stand tall under Team Liquid’s banner.
Unfortunately, this success was marred by the burden of the upcoming international tournament.
The Mid-Season Invitational
Team Liquid’s MSI run was riddled with problems. The organization received heavy criticism for crumbling during the first days of the competition and allowing Olleh to sit out a game in favor of an untested substitute.
The backlash was even more devastating when Team Liquid lost a decisive tiebreaker against Fnatic. Now, the story of a North American lineup failing to make it out of the group stage isn’t exactly newsworthy. But there was something special about this one.
Of course, some fans still criticized underperforming pros. Others, however, were quick to call out the org for overpaying its players. The Alienware training facilities and Impact’s alleged million-dollar contract were particularly prevalent in discussion threads. Fans remembered their NA LCS history. And the perception of Team Liquid continually buying its way to victory never quite went away.
In a way, Team Liquid is an unfortunate victim of its own drive. Throughout the years, the organization was focused on the singular goal of raising the NA LCS trophy.
But once TL finally achieved it, they were beaten down for failing internationally. Much like beauty, success lies in the eye of the beholder. And as far as Team Liquid is concerned, it will take a redemption arc similar to G2’s 2017 MSI run to make fans appreciate their triumphs.
Editorial credit: Riot Games