They said they would become the best team in North America, and Team Liquid is quickly backing up its confident statement.
In the second quarterfinal of the NA League Championship Series postseason, Team Liquid didn't merely eliminate NRG Esports from the playoffs -- it broke them. There are instances when 3-0 sweeps can actually be closer than it looks; a team messes up in the late game, the two teams are close but one is a little bit better on that day, etc. This was not one of those days. Liquid controlled the game from the outset and never looked back in their demolition of NRG's dreams of Las Vegas.
"We prepared a statement already," Matt "Matt" Elento said when I asked how they felt the series went. "We actually practiced really hard this week, and we expected a closer series. But we were let down."
What was supposed to be an interview simply between Liquid's bottom lane of Matt and his AD carry partner Chae "Piglet" Gwang-jin turned into a full-on TL media conference whens Rookie of the Split award winner Joshua "Dardoch" Hartnett and Liquid's mid laner Kim "FeniX" Jae-hun joined their teammates in the media box.
"I don't think there was ever once in the entire series where they had control," Matt told me. "So it's pretty convincing."
Convincing might be too light of a word for the performance Liquid showcased Sunday. NRG, while showing obvious communication weaknesses in the regular season, are a solid team with star players in their several positions. Yet in its three games today against TL, not one of them could win in lane or do anything resembling a competitive fight. Even when NRG seemed to be keeping up in terms of kills, it faltered heavily when it came to the game of objective control. Whenever NRG secured a kill, it was never given enough space to snowball the small advantage by grabbing a key objective.
"I think CLG are definitely one of the teams that are clutch on stage," Matt said when questioned about the TL players on their upcoming semifinal match against Counter Logic Gaming. "So we're going to try just as hard preparing for them and hopefully not be let down."
Liquid is no stranger to the semifinals. The team has found itself here countless times in the past under its current moniker and its former namesake, Curse. What has alluded the franchise though has been the advancement into the NA LCS grand finals. Tired of hearing the tedious jokes of always finishing in fourth place, the current iteration of TL won't settle for anything but making it to the final stage and winning it all.
"The difference in [Dardoch and Christian "IWillDominate" Rivera's] mechanics [is] actually huge," Piglet answered when questioned about how he feels his new jungler has acclimated to the starting roster. "[Dardoch] knows what he has to do and where he has to be, and just in an overall standpoint [I] feel more comfortable playing with Dardoch."
Matt also chimed in on his jungle comrade, telling me, "I've played with Dardoch for a long time. I'd say out of all the teammates he's the one I can trust the most with mechanics. There's never a time where I'll say, 'Wow, maybe he misses this kick we're going to lose.' It's not even remotely in the back of my mind."
Liquid are a confident bunch. While from the outside you could read their answers as arrogant or pompous, I wouldn't categorize them as that. The players simply believe they're the best team in North America, and they'll work harder and longer than everyone else until they can proudly state they've reached that goal. Then they'll go back to working hard once again to prove they can keep their spot atop the hierarchy and become a legitimate international threat for North America, something the region has sorely lacked the past couple of years.
"Team Liquid's greatest strength is probably [our drive]," Matt said. "So we'll always work our hardest. ... We all have something to prove."
Piglet added: "[I] think the fact we all try hard together is the most crucial point."
Talking with Liquid, the same words will pop up in every interview. Drive. Improvement. Together. The team is all-in together as a five man unit. They all want to be the best in the world, and they're driven to make that a reality any way possible.
"I think we have really good talent," FeniX said on his team's success this season. "Last year we couldn't [do better] because of a bad --"
The next minute or so was the other members of and management of Team Liquid in the room trying to find the right word on what has been the biggest difference between last year and the current squad. Ultimately, it was Dardoch who was able to translate what FeniX was trying to convey.
"[FeniX] is saying last season the players had already met their skill ceiling," he explained. "They couldn't get any better, but with us we're already at that same level but we can get so much better."
It's true TL are already ahead of schedule in terms of their roster. As a five-man squad, I would have expected them having the same issues as NRG. Rookie players, mixed languages on the team, and a new coaching staff behind them. No one would have blamed Liquid if they failed in the quarterfinals or weren't a top four team in the spring season. Summer, and maybe even spring 2017, was when you'd expect them to really blossom into their own as the rookies turned into veterans and the team started to gel.
Nope, Liquid doesn't have time for that. 2017 is too far away. They want to win the NA LCS title and head to the Mid-Season Invitational in Shanghai.
Speaking of NRG, I also asked what they think their opponents could improve on next season to fulfill their full potential as a top team in the league.
"Is this a 10-hour interview? We have a lot to say," Matt fired back first, deadpan in delivery.
"They need [a better] laning phase," Piglet added.
"I think they need to be less selfish," Dardoch responded. "Their mid and top are really, really selfish and it doesn't let the rest of their players shine. Even if they're not better than us individually, they're still at a big disadvantage because of how Lee "GBM" Chang-seok and Jung "Impact" Eon-yeong rule their draft it seems."
Moving into the semifinals, we discussed the first-place Immortals versus the rejuvenated Team SoloMid. Although at first they talked TSM's improvements against Cloud9, the majority of the players gave the edge to Immortals due to the strength of league MVP Kim "Reignover" Yeu-jin in the jungle.
"We're hiding everything," Dardoch told me when I brought up if Liquid didn't show their full hand today versus NRG. "We played our least favorite champions this week. I played Gragas. I played full damage Lee as a joke."
Finally, per usual, I asked if they had any shoutout for their fans or sponsors. Before they got into their spiel of sponsors, "Alienware, HTC, Twitch, HyperX, Quest, Razer, etc," Matt had an affirmation for Liquid's most loyal fans:
"Shoutout to the Liquid fans," he said. "If they were Liquid fans before this, then they'll be a happy fan knowing that they were fans of Team Liquid before they were the best team in NA."