It’s been a long time coming for North America. For the first time since Counter Logic Gaming accomplished the same feat three years ago, Team Liquid sent the region to the finals of the Mid-Season Invitational after a convincing 3-1 series victory over Invictus Gaming on Friday.
For many North American fans, hope seemed to die on Tuesday when Team Liquid finished the Group Stage with a less-than-stellar record of 4-6, barely advancing the team into the tournament’s next phase, while simultaneously setting up an intimidating series with the defending world champions. However, with the strength of some immaculate script-flipping, TL was able to take down the Chinese titans and book a spot in Sunday’s final.
While all eyes were on the jungle matchup between Jake “Xmithie” Puchero and Gao “Ning” Zhen-Ning, the difference in the support matchup ended up being the game-changing factor in the series. By the time the dust had settled and four games had passed, Jo “CoreJJ” Yong-in was sporting a KDA of 5.7, a KP of 80.8%, and a GD@15 of 333. Performances like this are the exact reason why TL signed the world champion support leading up to the season. This is the team that was promised to be “built for international success” – and CoreJJ is the player who did everything and then some to keep those promises.
For Liquid, perhaps the biggest change in dynamic was “playing their own game”. Throughout the course of the entire Group Stage, it felt like TL was playing a very reactionary game – almost as if the enemy team was making Liquid’s decisions for them. “We didn’t really know how to play through our advantages”, said Nicolaj “Jensen” Jensen after the series, citing a problem which TL had throughout the tournament’s early phases. Even in today’s series, when IG seemed to turn things around in a dominant third game, those haunting issues that plagued Liquid in the Group Stage seemed to creep back into play. Still, the North American champions remained stalwart and wrapped things up in convincing and resilient fashion just one game later.
Something changed between Tuesday and Friday. Team Liquid prepared immensely for this Bo5 and it showed. The squad looked like a new iteration of itself, with each and every player playing to the fullest of their abilities. Throughout the entirety of the Group Stage, there were moments where Team Liquid looked like a seriously efficient and dangerous team. But every time those glimmers of greatness shined through the cracks, the team went right back to stumbling along.
This time around, those glimmers shined brighter than ever before. This time, TL didn’t just squeak by – they were the ones who dominated. This time, Team Liquid were the ones to end up on the right side of history.
Photo Credit: Riot Games, League of Legends, Lolesports