Despite having a mediocre 10-8 record over the regular season, Team Liquid are confident and looking strong coming into the playoffs. Korean AD Carry Piglet even said in an interview that Liquid were the best team in North America, and that felt he was currently the best AD carry in the world. Strong words, but from a veteran like Piglet, it’s hard to argue. Despite a rough start to the split for Liquid, the former World Champion has boasted an impressive 6.2 KDA over 18 games, often putting up solid numbers during their losses as well as their victories. Throughout the split, Piglet showed preference towards Lucian during the regular season, but has a deep and diverse champion pool, and rarely passes up an opportunity to play his favorite champion, Vayne. It’s hard to mention Piglet without putting a word in for his fellow Korean, Fenix, in the midlane. Fenix during the first half of the split looked like a shadow of his former self, but has actually been a quietly solid performer for the team. He has the highest average CS differential at 10 minutes of all NA, EU and Korean midlaners. However he also has the lowest kill participation stat amongst NA midlaners. Fenix made his mark last season on his signature Azir, and looks most comfortable on similar control mages, such as Oriana and Lissandra, but has recently shown his diversity in play-style with standout performances on Zed and Corki. He also has the widest champion pool of all NA midlaners, which can often give TL an edge in the pick/ban phase. The Team Liquid lineup contains three rookies, all of whom have shown growth as the split has gone on, but none as much as Dardoch. The rookie of the split has already made his mark on the scene with an aggressive play-style, and wide champion pool. Over recent weeks he has gravitated towards Lee Sin as his primary champion, but he is also an accomplished RekSai and Elise player. However, his aggressive, fast and loose play-style has a drawback – vision control. Dardoch places less wards than any other NA jungler, rarely building sightstone and often opting for an aggressive smite. One of the strengths of TL is the synergy between Dardoch, and rookie toplaner Lourlo. On paper, Lourlo is amongst the weaker Toplaners in NA, and indeed, the weakest member of TL, given that he has the lowest CS differential at 10 minutes at -8.7 and is only responsible for 15.6% of his team’s damage. However, despite the disadvantage he usually comes out of lane with, he is still able to make plays for his team, boasting the most assists of all toplaners in NA. Lorlou usually plays tanks, such as Nautilus and Poppy, and specialize in being the unkillable front line that his team needs. Rounding out TL’s lineup is support Matt. For most of the split Matt has favored, Alistar, despite being largely unsuccessful on the pick. He has more recently found success in ranged, mage type supports such as Janna and Bard. Acting as a facilitator and protector to Piglet’s aggression seems to be the style that Matt excels most at, and these disengage, utility picks are ideal for him.
Coming into the playoffs, Liquid’s first round opponents were NRG esports. This was anticipated to be a close matchup, as NRG had managed to close out an incredibly close game against Liquid only three weeks ago in week 8 of the regular season, off the back of some clutch Zed plays from their superstar midlaner, GBM. The first game of the series saw an exciting 5v5 teamfight at level 1, with Lourlo’s toplane Ekko picking up first blood. Liquid managed to close the game out very cleanly, giving up only 1 kill to NRG and looking decisive and confident all game long. We also got the chance to see Fenix’s Azir again, a champion which he hasn’t played all split, but he made his name on last season. Game 2 was probably the most exciting of the series, with NRG putting up a decent fight in the early to mid game. However Liquid managed to pull out another win, largely due to Dardoch’s excellent Lee Sin play, ending with a score of 12/2/6 on the blink monk with an aggressive full damage build. Highlights of this game were an intense 1v1 between AD carry Piglet and his former SKT T1 teammate Impact, and a flashy Quadrakill for Dardoch’s Lee Sin. By the end of the game NRG looked like they were ready to surrender the series. Thankfully, this proved not to be the case, as NRG put up another good fight in game three, Toplaner Impact (Who had been a solid performer all series) in particular showing up strong, but Liquid managed to close out the series with a clean 3-0 sweep. Fenix’s Zed was a force to be reckoned with this game, as was Piglet’s Lucian, who picked up not one, but two Quadrakills in the closing three minutes of the game.
Liquid’s Semi Final opponents are Counter Logic Gaming. In their last matchup, Liquid managed to pick up a win against CLG, a feat which will be tough to replicate in a best of 5 scenario. Here are three things which Liquid can do to influence the matchup in their favour. Toplane CLG lives and dies by their laneswap and 1-3-1 splitpush strategies, engaging in few traditional teamfights, and focusing on map play and communication to pull out wins. This splitpush heavy strategy relies largely on Toplaner Darshan, who is known by some as the best there is when it comes to splitpushing. Darshan’s champion pool is large, but the champions he plays are very different to those which favoured by Lourlo. Darshan likes squishy, high damage champions, such as Fiora, Gangplank and Graves, where as Lourlo is primarily a tank player. Fortunately for Liquid, the meta has shifted towards a tank oriented toplane, which would naturally favour Lourlo. The only tank champion which Darshan has ever shown a preference towards is Gnar, which is also a champion that Lourlo plays. This champion will likely be a priority for both teams in the pick ban phase. Additionally, Lourlo was able to shut down Darshan’s Yasuo with his Nautilus in the team’s last meeting, showing that he has a wide array of answers to Darshan’s carries in his back pocket. Toplane will definitely be a focus this game, and it will be up to Lourlo to contain Darshan, a feat which can be anabled by his team securing a tank like Gnar or Poppy in the pick ban phase, and from the jungle pressure he usually gets from Dardoch. Jungle The second key to victory for Liquid, will be Dardoch. I think that the jungle is where the game will largely be decided, and where the biggest mismatch in Liquid;s favour lies. Dardoch plays a high tempo game, ganking often and exerting a lot of pressure. In contrast, CLG create pressure as a team through their rotations, and map play, with Xsmithie being used mostly as a secondary splitpusher. In their last meeting, however, Dardoch’s Lee Sin was able to make Xsmithie’s Gragas look like he didn’t exist. Repeating this feat in a best of five will be tough, but Dardoch has shown in his series against NRG that he can keep a level head in a long series, and if he can secure leads for his laners (Or himself) he may have found the key to cracking CLG. Mid Many players have their signature champions, which they are so skilled on, the following team are forced to take that champion into consideration whenever it is in the meta. Longtime followers of the NA LCS might remember Darshan’s Jax, or Balls’ Rumble, but anyone who has been following the scene over the past year will remember Fenix’s Azir. He went professionally undefeated on the champion last regular season. Fans of CLG will recall his famous 1v4 Quadrakill from the last time CLG faced Felix’s Azir, and this will no doubt be echoing through the minds of Counter Logic Gaming during the pick and ban phase. CLG will either be forced to ban the Emperor of Shurima, or to pick him for Huhi, who has only one professional game of Azir. However even if they do pick up Azir for Huhi, they will have the bear in mind that Fenix also has the highest winrate against Azir amongst NA midlaners from last split, as well as a proven aptitude on one of Azir’s traditional counterpicks, Zed. Overall, this will be a tactical and tense series, probably the closer of the two semi finals. I predict that CLG will come out on top, with a 3-2 record, leaving Liquid once again, in 4th place.