No matter if it was 16-0 or 0-16, the one trait the current Team Liquid squad has going for it is their supreme confidence in one another. Throughout the first eight weeks of the season, we've seen the reigning regular season champions in various forms: weakened and confused, skillful but inexperienced, and even dominating with smooth, effortless-like play.
The sporadic nature of Liquid's shape week to week has left it right in the middle at 8-8. With only two games left in the season before the playoffs begin, the team still needs to grab a single victory this upcoming weekend to book its ticket into the quarterfinals. TL will face Dignitas and Cloud9 to end the regular split, and if either it picks up a win or Echo Fox loses, the blue horses will be stampeding into the postseason for the third straight season.
One of the key members in Liquid's turnaround from a 0-3 start has been rookie support Matt "Matt" Elento. He entered the squad in the second game of the season to take over for Andy "Smoothie" Ta, the supposed starter alongside Chae "Piglet" Gwang-jin in the bottom lane. Since given a chance to make a statement early in the season with fellow rookie jungler Joshua "Dardoch" Hartnett, the Hawaii-born 18-year-old hasn't let the opportunity pass him by.
"I'm not satisfied," told Matt to ESPN last weekend on his stellar first season in the NA League Championship Series. "So I'm going to continue working hard and being the best player I can be. And that requires a lot of hard work and a lot of effort."
Despite his dissatisfaction, the young support has put together one of the better rookie support seasons in recent memory across all major regions. He's currently third in KDA out of all starting supports and second when it comes to kill participation. If you looked at his stats and predicted what the record of his team would be, you'd probably be guessing Liquid was challenging for a bye in the first round of the playoffs instead of needing a win on the final weekend to even make it to the dance.
The person who Matt credits with the most for his progression this split is their head coach, Choi "Locodoco" Yoon-sub, who began the season as a content producer for the organization before being asked to return from his coaching retirement to lead Liquid in the NA LCS. "[Locodoco] really took me under his wing. Even though I wouldn't say I'm hard to work with -- it's pretty hard to teach me. I've had many teachers in school who would just lose hope in me because I didn't try enough. But I've definitely been motivated enough to put in a lot of effort."
Besides his head coach, the most important member to Matt's development has been his AD carry partner in Piglet. The former world champion of the 2013 season, the ace carry has been able to use his world-class mechanics to help his new support get acclimated in the cutthroat waters of the NA LCS.
"How bot-lane communication works is there is usually someone who leads the lane and another person who basically follows them" he said. "In general, it's the support who is the one who goes for the trades, tells the AD what to do. But it's reversed for me -- Piglet is a player who has a lot of knowledge, a lot of mechanical skill, and he's just a world-class player."
For Piglet, he's the type of player who exudes confidence in his in-game style. So for Matt, instead of having Piglet tell him what he's going to do, he has learned how to react to his AD carry's aggressive style. So when Piglet goes in for a risky trade or tries to create an advantage, he's gotten to the point where he can react quickly enough to his teammate's movement and backup his partner. It's allowed the duo to be one of the better bottom lanes in the regular season this spring.
When I asked where he thought their partnership landed them in the hierarchy of NA LCS bottom lanes, Matt didn't beat around the bush.
"As a bottom lane, mechanically, we're the best. I don't know what other bottom lane that would argue that."
Although Immortals has already locked up the regular season title, the current, younger version of Liquid has a more confident style than even the starting five that took home those honors last split. Matt, Piglet, Dardoch and the rest of Liquid know they haven't reached their potential ceiling and still need results to back up their talk, but they also realize that going into any game without confidence of victory is already putting them at a disadvantage.
For Liquid, the championship -- not the regular season -- is all that matters. First seed, third seed, sixth seed, whatever. As long as they're in the playoffs, they think -- no, they truly believe -- they'll win the NA LCS championship come mid-April.
"Las Vegas in a few months -- [in a month]. Where are you?" I asked, closing out the interview.
Without skipping beat, Matt replied, "In Vegas, chilling with a trophy in my hands."