Team Liquid Steve blames “pressure” and pick/ban struggles for LCS failure

TL SteveTina Jo/Riot Games via ESPAT

We sat down with Team Liquid’s co-CEO Steve Arhancet for an insight into the beginning of Team Liquid’s offseason and to break down what went wrong for the roster in 2022. 

After a bad 2022, Team Liquid need a plan. 

By now, everything that could be said about their underperformance has already been rehashed a million times. It’s a simple problem with a thousand incredibly complicated solutions — and no one knows that better than Liquid co-CEO Steve Arhancet.

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He’s the one in charge of putting the wheels back on the TL train in the offseason, and Dexerto spoke to him about exactly how he’s planning on doing it. The team have already made their first change of the offseason with the release of AD Carry Steven ‘Hans sama’ Liv, and it’s highly likely that there are more to come. 

Diagnosing the problem

Team Liquid Summer 2022Twitter @LCSOfficial
Dismantling this roster feels like a waste of the time and money spent to put it together – but it’s clear that changes do need to be made.

Before you can make changes, you have to identify the nature of the problem at hand. According to Steve, Liquid’s offseason diagnostic process was twofold. 

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It began with written surveys of all staff members and players involved with the LCS roster. These cover everything, from opinions on staff members to “the comfort of the scrim room and whether the air conditioner was set too high.” Once those surveys had been conducted, TL then held extensive one-on-one sessions with the team in order to let them voice their specific concerns. 

“We do these post one-on-ones with every player, coach and analyst to gain some perspective on which areas may need improvement and where we fell short compared to expectations,” he told Dexerto. “And then that gets compiled into an action plan of what we want to do for the next season.” 

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For the 2022 season, this diagnostic process revealed two key pain points for the roster – the pressure of the superteam label and the team’s continual problems with the pick/ban phase. 

Insurmountable pressure

Santorin Liquid LCS Summer 2021Tina Jo for Riot Games
Santorin admitted the pressure of expectation was getting to him and his teammates throughout the Summer split.

Superteam, superteam, superteam. It was a term used by Liquid themselves and the wider world of the LCS ecosystem – and it may very well have ended up being their undoing. 

“We built a team that had a lot of expectations, and those expectations led to a lot of pressure,” explained Steve. “Even though we tried to mitigate some of that pressure through therapy, consultations and medical professionals, I don’t think we were able to remove it entirely. And I think that pressure led to the players not playing to the best of their potential.” 

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Jungler Lucas ‘Santorin’ Larssen expressed as much in an interview with Dexerto in which he explained that Team Liquid’s mentality was that they could “either meet expectations or fail”. And while a lot of that pressure will come from fans and viewers, there’s no denying that Team Liquid will have put a lot of pressure on their players, consciously or otherwise. 

In his offseason announcement video, Steve himself said that players were made aware of the level of investment that had gone into making this team. And it looks like the mental impact of that pressure was something that Liquid simply weren’t prepared for. 

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Draft phase issues

TL GuilhotoTina Jo/Riot Games via ESPAT
Guilhoto made no secret of TL’s draft issues, mentioning it in community Discord AMAs throughout the season.

TL’s problems weren’t only holistic. Their draft phase struggles were well-documented throughout the year – head coach Andre ‘Guilhoto’ Guilhoto publicly admitted to as much during multiple Discord AMA sessions throughout the course of the Summer split. 

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In particular, their bot lane operated on two completely different strengths. Jo ‘CoreJJ’ Yong-in is a player built for roaming early with his jungler, and Hans sama is someone who needs to be facilitated in lane in order to pop off and carry in the late game. Hardly a match made in heaven. 

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The current meta didn’t suit CoreJJ’s champion pool at all and led to a lot of draft issues. Enchanter supports are by far the strongest in the game at this exact moment in time, but CoreJJ’s most-played champion was Nautilus.

Liquid lacked any kind of core draft philosophy – and meant that their team comp identity was sorely lacking in a good portion of their games. 

Steve says that the draft phase “fell short of being a competitive advantage” for Team Liquid and that at points “even became a disadvantage.” These drafting issues can’t be attributed to one specific player or coach. They came about from a combination of small effective champion pools and an unwillingness to commit to a strong identity in the draft phase – and that’s not one individual member’s fault. 

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What happens now?

TL Academy 2022Team Liquid Honda LoL
Team Liquid’s academy team has been one of the best in the region this year, and Steve admits their academy rosters have been an underused resource.

Hans sama’s departure is only the first of what will likely be a fair few changes in the 2022 offseason. But for Steve, more than anything, 2023 is going to bring investment into academy and amateur infrastructure – something he explains TL have had in the past but that perhaps has not been utilized to maximum effectiveness. 

“I think we’ve done an excellent job of identifying rookie talent and developing them within TL” explained Steve, “we just haven’t opted to put them on the main LCS team”. Liquid have always opted to spend big and reap the rewards on their LCS roster, a strategy that’s worked reasonably well until this year. 

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But it’s also meant that they’ve lacked the kind of NA homegrown star power of a team like CLG or Evil Geniuses. Steve doesn’t regret his choices, but he thinks 2023 is the year for Liquid to start looking at their talent pipeline to build out their roster in the LCS. 

“We want to position next year as an opportunity to use that TL infrastructure that we’ve built, and that we’ve been using really well, and show it to the world,” he said.

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Their academy roster this year was one of the best in the system, making it somewhat surprising that we didn’t see any promotions of academy players into LCS when the going got tough.

Steve explains that the decision behind substitutions would have almost entirely been Guilhoto’s and that ultimately the team opted to stick to their guns even through the rougher moments. 

“I imagine he (Guilhoto) had conversations with Spawn, our academy head coach” said Steve. “But we built this team and through thick and thin we wanted to give them their run.”

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Steve didn’t confirm whether Liquid would look to promote any players from their academy roster for 2023 – merely stating that the team would be “thematically leaning into our existing infrastructure.” Their academy roster won Proving Grounds Spring and Summer, and NA Academy Summer – and support Bill ‘Eyla’ Nguyen and AD Carry Sean ‘Yeon’ Sung have some LCS experience after they played in Spring due to TL’s visa issues.

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