After having narrowly missed playoffs in Spring, Team Liquid (TL) bounced back in commendable fashion and placed first in the Summer regular season to lay claim to the first seed playoff berth. Reaping the benefits of being the first seed, TL chose Golden Guardians (GG) as their opponent. Despite their impressive showing against TSM, TL believed GG to be the easier opponent of the successful first-round teams. It wasn’t perfect, but TL made quick work of GG and secured the second of the three North American spots at the World Championship (seeding to be determined).
With GG’s bottom lane being on fire coming into this series, it was a sign of hope for the underdogs. The draft for both teams was about as standard as you can get in this meta aside from one blemish — GG’s bottom lane. Caitlyn, the hypercarry queen of poke and lane dominance was paired with Alistar. The idea of Alistar using Pulverize to guarantee the crowd control chain into a Caitlyn trap sounds appealing, but the pairing outside of that doesn’t find much value. Alistar is a melee champion that wants to create skirmishes pre-six. Caitlyn wants to dominate her opponents through wave manipulation and poke. Her primary objective before coming online is to strangle the opponent of resources. Pairing her with Alistar, while not completely incompatible, lowers her value and effectiveness in lane. It was an uncharacteristic pairing for GG.
The game followed a similar route that we’ve grown to expect of TL matches over the last three years. Much like Caitlyn, TL excels at strangling their opponents of resources and winning through clever macro and superior teamfighting. If you’re going even with TL, you’re behind. This game was no different and TL played it slow and calculated. Attempts at aggression from GG were thwarted. However, GG didn’t relent and managed to finally break open the game after seventeen minutes at the third dragon. With TL having claimed two during the lull, GG knew they had to start contesting with Soul approaching. Finally finding a window, GG won a two-for-nothing fight and claimed the dragon.
Despite finding a winning fight, the gold lead remained slightly in TL’s favour. Having found success in the regular season through unsuspecting macro plays, TL tried their hand at a two-man Baron while the rest of the team distracted GG in mid. Though they nearly snuck it, GG sniffed it out after catching Tactical in mid. After killing Tactical, GG collapsed on Baron and killed Broxah and Jensen. With the manpower advantage, GG claimed Baron for themselves and returned to base without any opposition. The strength of the buff was severely weakened as FBI was met with death upon returning to the mid lane. With a forty-second death timer, GG were forced to sacrifice half of their remaining time left to try and punish TL. GG managed to take two towers down through split-pushing, but TL responded with two of their own. The buff ended with GG slightly in the lead, but not as much as they originally hoped.
Just before the fifth dragon spawned, the one that would grant TL Cloud Soul, Huhi tried his hand at engaging on TL but did so without any follow-up. As a result of the miscalculated attempt, GG members were left with low HP trying to protect him and were forced to give up the Cloud Soul. Upon resetting, Huhi attempted to catch Tactical again in the mid lane but was unsuccessful. Hauntzer was over-aggressive in the follow-up and was met with a swift death, leaving GG in a 4v5 scenario with Baron up. TL moved to Baron but were too low to successfully take it. They managed to kill FBI and called off the attempt with his life as the reward. They weren’t done, however, and returned to the scene of the crime with a much better plan. TL eliminated the chance of Baron being a 50/50 and used Impact’s ultimate to isolate Closer. With no threat of the steal, TL successfully took Baron and aced GG.
To close out the game, TL sent two to push the waves and two to take Elder. Upon claiming Elder, the remaining members marched into GG’s base to win the first game.
Game 2 – Team Liquid Leads 1-0
After having lost the first game trying to play to TL’s style (or to being involuntarily swept into it), GG only changed two champions. This resulted in a much different style that showed exactly how GG planned to attack TL. Impact is one of, if not the best weak-side top laner in North America, and Mordekaiser has a brief window to attack. Pre-six is when Mordekaiser is vulnerable to dives and 2v1 scenarios. If you let him get to six unchecked, his presence in the game becomes terrifying. GG’s answer to this was Lillia in the top lane. Stylistically, Lillia should do well into Mordekaiser. The animation on his Q and E are rather slow, and he is a melee champ that wants to stick to you to do damage through his passive. Lillia thrives on dancing in and out of fights and making use of her exceptional movement speed to win trades. On top of that, she does well into tank champions due to her percentage health and true damage. Though risky, it was a fascinating answer.
The assumed intent of GG’s draft came true six minutes in when Hauntzer set up the perfect gank. Many trades were going in Hauntzer’s favour and this allowed him to reach level six before Impact. Vulnerable due to his low health from various lost trades and not having ultimate yet, GG jumped on the opportunity. Hauntzer put Impact to sleep as Damonte teleported to the top lane and continued the crowd control chain with a stun. Not yet being six, Impact had no way to respond and gave first blood to Hauntzer’s counter-pick Lillia. Thanks to the bullying that Hauntzer was able to dish out early in the game, he was sitting pretty with a kill and CS lead. Things looked grim for TL after this as the lead continued to grow for Hauntzer. It seemed impossible for Impact to match him.
The North American special of being paid millions of dollars to teamfight for Herald occurred nine minutes in and GG ended up winning the fight, killing Broxah with Senna’s global ultimate and claiming Herald. A couple of minutes later after having found no opportunities to use it, GG summoned Herald in base to make the walk of shame through the top lane. TL matched this excellently with three members top and caught Hauntzer out. Not only did the kill on Hauntzer stop some of the bleeding, one of the members they sent top to stop the Herald push was CoreJJ. With the use of his ultimate, they mitigated all turret damage from Herald and won big on two fronts. This was the start of TL closing the gap that would soon cease to exist between Impact and Hauntzer.
Fifteen minutes in, Impact and Broxah found a pick on Hauntzer that was caught aggressively navigating through the river without vision. Three minutes later, Hauntzer was caught out again by Impact and Broxah in the bottom lane. Hauntzer felt safe thanks to his movement speed, but Impact and Broxah were able to abuse his false sense of security through the use of Impact’s ultimate. Temporarily locking Hauntzer in the Realm of Death gave Broxah the time to move towards them to secure the kill. At this point, the lead Hauntzer established early was equalized and TL was able to 5v5 much more effectively. With this in mind, TL started to dare GG to fight them at dragons, but GG conceded every dragon from then on and were denied the Ocean Soul they were one dragon off of.
TL knew they were in the driver’s seat and committed to Baron at thirty-three minutes. Despite the threat of Closer stealing it, TL stayed on it and won the 50/50 smite fight. TL was not done, however, and chased the members of GG. They won the fight four-for-two, reset, and won another fight as the GG members respawned and closed the game out.
|Team LiquidWIN||Time: 36:11||Golden GuardiansLOSS|
Game Three – Team Liquid Leads 2-0
GG continued to shift their pieces around in the third game by making Closer the sole AP carry of the team. With this, they put Damonte on the recently buffed Lucian in response to Jensen’s LeBlanc, a pick that was sitting on the ban list the first two games. Interestingly, they opted to forgo picking Caitlyn in favour of Senna. Placing your hottest player on Senna when Caitlyn is available is a perplexing choice. Though I wasn’t in agreement with it, GG’s bottom lane proved to be quite the force despite being disadvantaged in the 2v2.
This game deviated from the standard the first two games set. It was bloody from four minutes in with Closer successfully getting a gank off top lane. A minute after this, while both junglers were off clearing camps, FBI and Huhi found a crack in the armour of TL’s bot lane and managed to 2v2 kill Tactical. Damonte roamed down during the process of this and assisted in securing the second kill of the trade on CoreJJ.
This was a devastating moment for TL as not only did they lose a 2v2 (something we’ve grown not to expect of CoreJJ and his lane partner), it was a champion matchup in their favour. The teams weren’t done fighting, however, as Closer was caught out by Herald. Seconds later, TL lost another 2v2 fight. GG continued to fight aggressively, securing two dragons, a total of eight kills, and a 2k gold lead over the course of the first twenty-one minutes. A couple mistakes, however, cost them dearly. Huhi was caught out mid. In response, Damonte attempted to rotate from bottom to the river to provide vision for the nearing dragon. Jensen assassinated him in his jungle and TL secured the dragon which eliminated the threat of a GG Inferno Soul for another ten minutes.
The game remained in GG’s favour until twenty-six minutes in where TL found a game changing fight in mid. Winning a four-for-nothing, TL made a walk towards Baron to claim it uncontested. Upon respawning, GG ran directly to the dragon in an attempt to get it before TL were able to make it there. While they were able to kill the dragon and put themselves at Soul point, it was at the cost of two lives. With the man advantage and Baron buff, TL took GG’s middle inhibitor and recalled to begin a healthy push in the bottom lane. Hauntzer, repeating a characteristic mistake of his from this series, overextended in the bottom lane and was caught unsuspecting (though he should have). 5v4, TL took the attack to GG’s base and claimed their remaining structures. What was looking like a thirty minute finish for TL was thwarted by stellar defence from the side of GG.
For the next ten minutes, TL was stopped in the GG base multiple times. It would be a series of trades that Damonte would facilitate off the back of superb Lucian play. It wasn’t enough, however, as GG took to the outside of their base and lost a fight that resulted in TL closing out the series, knocking GG down to the lower-bracket to face TSM.
|Team LiquidWIN||Time: 41:02||Golden GuardiansLOSS|
Post-Match Discussion – Team Liquid Wins Series 3-0
TL was kicked and spit on before franchising, knowing only fleeting moments of “success”. They were the fourth-place gatekeepers. If you wanted to challenge the best, you had to go through TL first. If you couldn’t beat TL, there was no chance you could beat the top dogs — not even they could do that. Tiring of being so close yet so far, they restructured. In 2018 and 2019, nobody could touch them. They became the kings of North America. Things went awry at the start of 2020 as they finished in ninth place. They have rebounded harder than people thought they could and have shown they are coming for nothing less than the crown they dropped. They aren’t owed it, but they are on track to reclaiming it with this sweep. Not only are they one step closer to achieving that, but they have also qualified for the 2020 World Championship in China. This will be their third consecutive Worlds appearance, but things aren’t wrapped up yet in North America and it is clear TL knows that. For them to continue their legacy, they will have to head to Worlds as the LCS champions. The crown is up for grabs with the once monstrous C9 losing their footing. If there was ever a time to start another dominating run of championships, now would be it.
On the other end, GG fought valiantly in a match many thought would go in TL’s favour. However, after convincingly sweeping TSM just a week before, a bit more was expected of them. GG seemed to play better mechanically and found advantages through outplaying their direct lane opponents, but they couldn’t keep up with TL’s macro. FBI and Huhi continue to demonstrate they are at the top of the region, but the team needs to come together as a whole and figure out how to transition their leads into clean wins if they want to contend for the top. GG is a team full of underdogs — players people looked over. What they’ve accomplished in one split is impressive, but their consistent missteps in the mid game will continue to hold this team back from achieving greater things.