They were arguably the most well-equipped team to represent our region at MSI. With three of their players (Doublelift, Pobelter, and Olleh) making it in the top five best KDA list of the NA LCS spring split, a strong argument could be made for why TL qualifying for MSI over a team like Team SoloMid, 100Thieves, or Echo Fox was actually a good thing and not a fluke.
With TL proving themselves the probable best team for the international job, it boggles the mind as to how they managed to make such a mess of it so quickly at MSI 2018.
From the get-go, any league player could identify the issues Team Liquid were going to have to fix before they were going to start competing against their eastern counterparts.
Game state transitions, objective focus, and simple positioning were glaring wounds that no one on TL seemed to want to cover up. In fact, TL support Olleh decided to just run away from the issues and let super-sub Joey remind everyone that players who are rusty are going to play rusty.
But we're not quite there yet. Let's start from the beginning.
Early to mid to late game
There's a reason players have labeled the stages of the game this way. It's because in each portion of the game, the strategies used change. And who decides when exactly these strategies are employed?
Everyone but Team Liquid, apparently.
In almost every match that TL struggled in, the one consistent factor was the enemy team changing up the pace. It doesn't matter if TL were winning or losing the early game, they almost always fell behind later on because they wanted to hold on to the simplicity of laning phase that they perform so well in.
Their tie-breaker against Fnatic serves as a great example of this. By the twelfth minute, all of TL's lanes were down in CS, and they had just gone down another kill, putting the kill total to 4 for Fnatic and 3 for TL.
It is at this point, in a match that decides who moves onto the Semifinals, that any other team would jump the laning ship and try to start some fires another way: Force an objective fight, roam your laners and take towers, invade. Any of these options could represent TL's efforts to move into the mid game and shake things up.
Instead, they chose to sit back and wait to react. Exactly one minute later, Fnatic mounted an attack on TL's heart: The bot lane.
With a four-man gank, Fnatic managed to grab themselves a kill and a turret, throwing Doublelift and Olleh even further behind in gold whilst pushing their own team ahead. The rest of the match would be played out with both teams jostling for objectives with Fnatic always coming out a little bit further ahead each time until TL's nexus was destroyed.
It's this kind of principle in Team Liquid's play, the principle of answering the question as apposed to asking it, that was the biggest sin on the international stage. But that isn't all that went wrong for NA's golden squad.
Olleh's responsibilities and Pobelter's positioning
After the first day of group stages, Team Liquid support Olleh was benched with substitute Joey replacing him.
Even when ignoring the fact that having a player who hasn't played an official competitive match in roughly 2,000 years is a bad idea for obvious experience reasons, one still can't shake the thought that Olleh, as a signed professional, owes more to his team and fans than to sit out on one of the most important tournaments of the year.
It's obvious from his twitter page that Olleh wanted this to happen and that is a concern for two reasons: Firstly, the managerial powers at be should have more backbone when it comes to their players' responsibilities. A player that developed himself with his teammates all split long should not feel comfortable abandoning their teammates and fans simply because they don't like the way they're playing. Fans are here to suffer with their team, not suffer directly because of them.
Secondly, it's not a good sign when a player of Olleh's caliber doesn't see this reality on his own. The fact that he had the nerve to delegate a job he signed up for to someone else at such a critical time should not rest easy with a dedicated fanbase, especially one as passionate as Team Liquid's. If Doublelift managed to make it to the NA LCS Playoff stage after going through hell off the Rift losing his family, Olleh shouldn't be shaken off the keyboard and mouse because of bad play.
Because of this and more, the future of Olleh's career with Team Liquid rests heavily on how he steps up in the coming summer split of June and beyond. Another lapse of confidence of this magnitude and you can bet he'll be on the transfer list for 2019.
On a different note: Pobelter.
What even happened here? As stated before, the mid laner managed to make the top 5 KDA list for the NA LCS spring split. He's often been a mid laner compared to the likes of Bjergsen or Jensen: Consistent. Dominant. Consistently dominant. At least for North American midlane standards.
This MSI showed us a Pobelter that was consistently lost. The TL mid laner made the bottom half of the KDA statistics within the group stage with an overall 14/25/55.
For most players, such performances can be forgiven. After all, nothing good can be said for any of the performances given by any of the Team Liquid players this MSI save for Doublelift and perhaps instances of Xmithie's play, so it's tempting to let Poe off the hook with this one, but re-watching his newfound ability to constantly over-extend and get caught over and over again shakes that temptation off pretty quick.
In the end, fans were left with disappointment after disappointment.
The leadership from Pobelter wasn't there, Xmithie couldn't muster the plays to support TL's 'protect the carry' composition, Olleh failed on all fronts, Impact didn't show himself at all in any of the games, and Doublelift was probably left pondering a move to Europe.
With North America along with the rest of the world watching on throughout this important benchmark in international competition, we're all left wondering just what happened to the region's best, and the level of progress on this supposed international skill gap closing any time soon.
Let us know what you think of Team Liquid's MSI performance in the comments below!