Team Liquid is trying to break the norm on how to field a League team. We saw last year how successful SK Telecom T1 was with its mid-lane rotation of former Worlds MVP Lee "Faker" Sang-hyeok and Lee "Easyhoon" Ji-hoon that led them to the 2015 Summoner's Cup. Liquid is upping that system with a 10-man roster, combining its main roster with its Challenger team.
Following a loss to Renegades in an hour-long affair, Team Liquid decided to put into action its players from the Team Liquid Academy. Joshua "Dardoch" Hartnett and Matthew "Matt" Elento made their professional debuts on the main roster and in the LCS. The makeshift lineup appeared to be minutes away from getting TL's first victory of the season over Team SoloMid, but it all came crashing down when the inexperienced lineup fell apart in the climactic moments to allow TSM the comeback win.
"It's obviously a little disappointing because I lost. I was definitely expecting to win today," Matt told ESPN after the close loss to the former three-time NA LCS champions. "Most of our mistakes that cost us the [game] will be fixed over time. It's all experience."
The talent is there for the 10 members of the Team Liquid battery, but it's going to take growing pains for the organization to find the right mix of five players to put out onto the Rift for the best results. Matt and Dardoch both proved on Sunday that they have the technical skills to give NA's premiere teams a run for their money, and it's now up to them to show that they can bring the brains and savvy to match the veterans as well.
"I think the 10-man roster definitely has a lot of potential because it's the first instance of [a roster of that size] in the West," said Matt on Liquid's unique team structure. "It can really bring out the best in each player. If you have another person in your role that you can talk to every day, you can get all these matchup experiences and general tips."
The silver lining for TL in this tough loss will come in the form of knowledge that their rookie players learn from the close-but-not-close-enough defeat. Even SK Telecom T1 back in 2013, when they were led by the prodigy Faker, found themselves falling out in the semifinals of their inaugural tournament due to a lack of knowledge of how to play together in razor-thin matches. While the good teams can bounce back from a tough loss, the great teams take what they learned in a close defeat and become an even stronger version of themselves the next time they head out onto the Rift.
"Right now we're going over a lot of the macro for the game," Matt told us about his relationship with fellow Liquid support Andy "Smoothie" Ta. "We want to be the in-game shot-callers."
It'll take weeks, maybe even months, for Matt to feel completely comfortable in the role of shot caller for the reigning regular season champions -- but that's alright. As long as the duos in each position continue to push each other to become better and towards a common goal, the solution to Liquid's longstanding late-game ailments might finally be uncovered.