They were one of the most stacked superteams in the world – and they won’t be going to Worlds 2022. What happened to Team Liquid’s LCS roster, and what can we expect from the team heading into 2023?
2022 seems to be the year that the superteams fall. First, it was Team Vitality, the European superteam designed to net Vitality their first LEC title – who failed to get anywhere close to an LEC final in either Spring or Summer.
And now, it’s Team Liquid. Pound-for-pound one of the most individually talented rosters North America had ever seen, they failed to qualify for the World Championship and will enter a long offseason without a domestic or international title to their name.
Team Liquid have never quite known failure on this scale before in the LCS. They’ve had their years of poor performance (the Team liquid fourth meme exists for a reason) but never with this level of investment behind them. At the start of the split they had a strong case for having the most talented players, pound for pound, in every role. At the end of the split, Team Liquid are missing Worlds for the first time in four years.
What happens when a project of this scale falls apart? Not only does Liquid have some truly incredible talent – they have some truly incredible imported talent, for whom the future is immediately uncertain. Where will those players go? Can Liquid realistically go for a total rebuild after this level of investment?
Change needs to happen
Failure on this scale is inexcusable for an organization of this size. But how do Liquid go about fixing what’s broken with minimal casualties?
The first port of call for a failing team of all-star talent is to look to the coach. Because how could these players fail, if not for some kind of systemic issue?
André ‘Guilhoto’ Pereira has received his fair share of criticism for the TL disaster, and rightly so. Players this good don’t suddenly start inting. Something is clearly wrong on an organizational level, and it’s easy to think that replacing the coach will fix the problem completely. But it’s rarely that simple – life rarely offers us quite so easy a solution for such a complicated problem.
So, replace Guilhoto. Perhaps even replace Jonas ‘Kold’ Andersen if you feel like the team needs a complete, clean reset.
But what happens if these players keep underperforming after they’re gone? Team play and fundamentals weren’t the only issue for Team Liquid’s LCS 2022 run. Their bot lane in particular has had some serious issues with how they’re playing out teamfights, especially in the playoffs, and that’s not necessarily a coaching problem.
It’s likely that Søren ‘Bjergsen’ Bjerg, Lucas ‘Santorin’ Larsen (barring a few recent slip-ups) and Gabriël ‘Bwipo’ Rau have all performed well enough to stay. But the bot lane is a real problem, and a new coach isn’t going to magically fix that. Steven ‘Hans sama’ Liv, a player labeled as a true hard carry AD Carry, had one of the lowest kill shares of any AD Carry in the LCS throughout the Summer split.
Those things in themselves are not necessarily negatives, but Bjergsen is not a hard carry, and Bwipo isn’t going to provide that crucial DPS needed in a teamfight. Team Liquid needed Hans sama to step up and be the Draven/Tristana/Sivir carry of old, and he just… didn’t. Jo ‘CoreJJ’ Yong-in has also underperformed, and that’s just not something you get the opportunity to do as a former World Champion.
Not all change is good
Bjergsen is Bjergsen. He’s not the kind of player a team will just get rid of – his brand value in the LCS alone is enough for Team Liquid to overlook any moments of weakness. And more importantly, he’s performed consistently just well enough that getting rid of him just wouldn’t be worth it for TL.
He’s still the same undisputed KDA king that he’s always been, and he’s a great rock for the team to rely on in the mid lane (even if his passivity and champion pools are still a significant problem).
The identity of this team seemed, to me, pretty apparent from the moment the roster was announced. A support whose strength lies in making the primary engages, and a jungler who’s competent at following up on those engages with picks like Sejuani and Trundle.
A top laner who can help make those engages by picking off priority targets in side lanes before a fight even starts. A consistent, control mage mid laner who can help create space within fights for the hard-carry AD Carry to work his magic.
But this isn’t what it ended up becoming. CoreJJ has been stuck on enchanter supports, unable to make the plays he’s so famous for. Santorin’s been forced to become TL’s primary engage tool, a role that he admitted in an interview with Dexerto that he thinks CoreJJ is better at.
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Bwipo’s gotten more than his fair share of kills (the most of any LCS top laner in the regular season), but they’ve rarely been able to provide the necessary utility to the rest of his team. And both Bjergsen and Hans sama have shown nothing but passivity in their respective roles. Team Liquid’s core identity as a team has gotten lost, and they’re floundering.
Rebuilding an identity for Team Liquid LCS
The two most glaring problems for this roster are its bot laners – specifically Hans sama.
Team Liquid had the second-lowest damage per minute of any of the eight teams in the LCS playoffs. Hans sama did 28.8 percent of that damage, racking up a measly 580 damage per minute – insufficient numbers for an AD Carry drafted onto a team with a notoriously low-damage mid laner.
CoreJJ’s also had issues with not fulfilling his role, but his issues have been much more meta-based than a breakdown of his identity as a player. He’s been on enchanter duty almost the whole split long, but especially in the playoffs, and that’s simply not where he shines.
Even as far back as Spring, CoreJJ’s ability to work with ranged enchanters has been an issue for TL. In a Discord AMA midway through the Spring split, head coach Guilhoto explained that while Hans sama worked best with ranged supports, CoreJJ’s comfort was on engage and roaming – and that the pairing needed to “find a balance and play both at a higher level.”
That hasn’t happened.
This synergy issue might be solved by a change in coaching philosophy. This team feels designed for each player to perfectly fill an archetype that creates one harmonious whole – you can afford to play a little outside the meta if it means fulfilling the conditions of your team’s success. If a coach is willing to draft him comfort picks and hope he can just skill gap his opponent, then we might see a return of the old CoreJJ.
But the same can’t be said for Hans sama. The current bot-focused meta is pretty well suited to him, and he’s been put on consistently strong picks throughout the summer split and the playoffs. It hasn’t yielded results anywhere close to what fans, and likely Hans sama himself, would have expected or wanted.
If a change were to be made in the bot lane, it would make more sense to me to replace Hans sama than to replace CoreJJ. But it would also make sense to make a coaching staff change first – see if putting CoreJJ on comfort picks and having Hans sama adapt can repair their fractured synergy.
There’s also perhaps an argument to be made for replacing Bwipo. But much like CoreJJ, I think a lot of his issues stemmed from the draft, and particularly from his reluctance to play champions like Gnar and Sejuani. In fact, he was one of the only top laners in the LCS to not play Sejuani once throughout the course of the Summer split (and only once in the Summer playoffs) – she’s been one of the most popular top laners in the international meta.
Whether this is a refusal to play those champions, and therefore a potential attitude issue on his behalf, or the choices of TL’s coaching staff, we’ll probably never know. But if it is a coaching staff issue, that’s something that can be fixed without replacing one of the players that TL spent an offseason and an unfathomable amount of money to acquire.
Ultimately, it’s unlikely that we’ll see any major changes come out from TL. If I were to hazard a guess, I’d say the most likely solution they’ll take will be to change their coaching staff and keep their players as they are and attempt to make a 2023 rerun. Perhaps they’ll get rid of their two big EU imports in Bwipo and Hans sama and look to domestic talent to fill the gaps, but it would be an undeniable waste of two of the biggest signings an NA team has had in quite some time.
Realistically, this roster only gets one more shot at the title before they wear out the good faith of fans. Now, we just have to wait to see what that shot will look like.