While the schedule definitely got tougher after Team Liquid’s promising 2-0 day 1 at MSI, no one quite expected this. After jumping out of the gate, establishing early control of the tournament, Team Liquid has completely fallen apart at the seams, losing four straight games and finding themselves in a tie for second-to-last.
And still, things feel redeemable for Liquid here at MSI. While there’s definitely a sense of tension in the air, it’s not quite time to hit the panic button yet. This mess can still be salvaged and Liquid can still right the ship. And, with the help of a few minor miracles, perhaps TL can come out of this whole thing in better position than anyone expects them to.
It’s best to look at this tournament as a series of trials and tests for Liquid. Did they beat the teams they were supposed to one day 1? Yes. Did they hold their own against the world’s top squads? No. Can they redeem themselves and secure a spot in the bracket stage? We shall see.
If TL is going to make it out of this group stage, one thing’s for certain: they’ll need to win the games where they have a shot. That starts tomorrow against Phong Vũ Buffalo. PVB currently sits in dead last with a record of 1-5. Liquid needs to secure a win against this bottom-of-the-barrel squad if they’re going to have any shot of progressing into the knockout round. The phrase “must-win” isn’t uttered all too frequently, but a game against a lower-tier team that Liquid has beaten once before can certainly be defined as a “must-win”.
From there, things get really menacing as Invictus Gaming, SK Telecom, and G2 Esports round out Team Liquid’s MSI Group Stage schedule. In the first round robin, TL lost to all three of these squads by pretty hefty margins. SKT blew them out by 14k gold, Invictus by 12k, and G2 by 9k. And while TL showed signs of life and presented flickers of hope throughout each game, there was never enough of a push to solidify a solid performance from start to finish. If TL is going to change its fortune in the second round robin, the themes of spotty gameplay and utter inconsistency need to be altered immediately. If they don’t, things can get really ugly really fast.
In a world where TL repeats its performance against each team as it went in the first round robin, Liquid would end the group stage with a record of 3-7. In order for the North American champions to move on comfortably, they would have to steal a game and walk away with an upset victory. And even then, that probably wouldn’t be enough to secure them a miracle run at the 2 or 3 seed.
After tomorrow’s must-win game against Phong Vũ, Liquid has IG to look forward to just a few hours later. While anything is within the realm of possibility, a win here for Liquid (or any team for that matter) is going to be an uphill battle, seeing that Invictus has been near-untouchable this tournament.
Moving along to day 5, Liquid faces off with SKT and G2, two teams who undoubtedly stomped all over TL, but still serve as easier competition for the North American contenders. Liquid needs to win one (or both) of these games in order to come out of the group stage alive and above water. While there are scenarios where a 3-7 record could secure TL passage into the knockout round, a few extra wins for security are imperative moving forward – especially considering head-to-head records will play a massive role down the line.
Heading into the latter phases of the group stage, look for Liquid to turn to its franchise player to dig the team out of the trenches. It’s no secret that Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng is the anchor of Team Liquid – the foundation which the remainder of the squad rests upon. And if TL is going to find a way to steal a win or two, they’ll absolutely need Doublelift to turn it up on the international stage. Thus far, a KDA of 3.4, a KP of 70.3% and a DMG% of 25% have placed Doublelift squarely in the decent tier. For these next four games, TL will need Doublelift to be outstanding at the very least. On a team with superstars packed from top to bottom, the greatest star of them all needs to shine the brightest.
With just four games left on the slate, TL’s window is closing fast. The schedule isn’t going to lighten up any time soon, as Invictus, SKT, and G2 all wait on the horizon. And if the North American champions are going to progress into the tournament’s next stage, they’re going to have to beat one of them. It’s do or die for Team Liquid here at MSI, and if the team isn’t able to perform to its highest capacity against some of the most talented franchises in the world, the hope of North America could fade much quicker than expected.
Photo Credit: Lolesports, Riot Games, Team Liquid