DETROIT --- Team Liquid are champions once more.
In a record-setting final at a packed Little Caesars Arena, the reigning North American champions won their fourth-straight League of Legends Championship Series title, becoming the first team in the league to win four in a row. Once the laughingstock of the league and fighting to stay alive in relegation matches, added resources from a well-funded ownership group and multiple superstar signings have changed Liquid's tale from rags to riches.
No players on the team personify that than more their world-class bottom lane, the backbone and heart of the team, AD carry Yiliang "Doublelift" Peng and support Jo "CoreJJ" Yong-in. Doublelift is the undisputed greatest League of Legends player to ever come from the United States, the victory in Detroit adding a seventh league title to his resume. CoreJJ, born in South Korea, is heralded as one of, if not the best player at his position in the world, having made two world finals and won one as part of Samsung Galaxy.
Neither of these players were cheap. When Doublelift's previous franchise, Team SoloMid, removed him from the roster after having won three-straight titles themselves, Liquid jumped at the opportunity to lock down the decorated carry player as the face of their franchise. A year later, when they saw a chance to upgrade their starting roster and bolster Doublelift's performance, Liquid didn't hesitate and managed to sign a former world champion.
A season later, CoreJJ won league MVP honors, and the bottom lane was lifting a trophy in St. Louis celebrating a third-straight LCS championship for Liquid.
"[We have] a commitment to winning," Team Liquid co-owner Steve Arhancet said. "It just bleeds throughout the entire organization. I think you've seen some other esports orgs that have faltered a bit because their investors lose confidence, right? They're putting capital to work and not seeing a return on that. They're not seeing success and pulling out. For us, winning is the most important thing. We're in it for the long haul. We're here to create a legacy."
At this moment in the League of Legends scene, going younger is the trend. Teams have players in practice squads too young to compete in pro play and awaiting their 17th birthday to break into the big leagues. Some franchises, like fellow LCS finalist Cloud9, pride themselves on scouting and developing future stars. If teams can sign young talent and develop them, those players will cost less, and avoid getting into bidding wars with other taems in a world where there is no such thing as a salary cap.
Liquid are not part of this trend.
The average age of the team's starting five is a little over 25 years old. That might be when players hit their prime in basketball, but in League of Legends, they could be considered senior citizens. Doublelift has been playing professionally since the very beginning, back in 2010, and CoreJJ has even changed positions in his storied career, starting as an AD carry like Doublelift before transitioning to support in 2016 when he made his first world final as part of Samsung Galaxy.
The switch turned CoreJJ from a middling AD carry to a world-class talent. As a carry of a team, you have to be rigid a lot of the time on the map. There aren't a lot of openings to showcase your creativity or think outside the box. You output damage, use your technical talents to dodge and weave and make sure your positioning is perfect to not get gobbled up in a sprawling five-on-five brawl.
At support, though, CoreJJ's imaginative play was at its best. He didn't have to stay in the lane. He could play a wide array of champions and pilot them in different ways. Doublelift, experienced and quick-fingered, executes and follows up on the wild ideas that CoreJJ wants to try out on the playing field, and it's worked out over and over for the best bot lane in the LCS.
To some, the support position can seem like the least exciting to play of the five designated roles. The support doesn't get a lot of kills, is forced to spend in-game gold on buying wards to grant vision along the map and is a lot of the times the first to die when a teamfight does break out. To CoreJJ, though, it's a release, an extension of himself, where he can express the various scenarios running through his head.
When asked how his current bottom lane partner differs and compares with his last, the one he won a world title with, Park "Ruler" Jae-hyuk, CoreJJ had to stop and think. For a few moments he sat and wondered, humming while wearing his commemorative championship t-shirt provided by Riot Games.
Finally, it wasn't CoreJJ who broke the silence, but Doublelift himself, seated across the room in preparation for his own interview.
"You can say Ruler is better," Doubleift said.
"Ruler, he trusts his mechanics," CoreJJ answered in response, ignoring his teammate's suggestion. "He thinks he can dodge everything. If he sees an opening, he goes in. For [Doublelift], he has a really strong game knowledge on how to win and how to play the game."
Since joining Liquid, Doublelift's game sense has led to just that: victories. He's won the last 15 best-of-five matches he's played in the LCS, his last defeat dating all the way back to the spring of 2016 when he lost to Counter Logic Gaming in a league final.
CoreJJ, like his bot lane partner, loves to win. His favorite moment so far in his first year on Liquid has been all the winning the team has done, marching through both spring and summer regular seasons en route to back-to-back domestic crowns.
During the offseason, CoreJJ's release from his former team would have normally started a bidding war. Franchises from North America, China, South Korea and Europe would put together their best pitches and dollar amounts to sway a true cornerstone talent still in his prime.
That didn't occur, though. CoreJJ didn't want any bidding wars. He didn't want to look at other teams. The moment he was released from his previous contract, there was only one team on his mind: Team Liquid. Soon after, CoreJJ was announced as Team Liquid's new starting support, and so far, it's resulted in two league titles, an MVP award and an international final appearance at the Mid-Season Invitational.
CoreJJ could have realistically gone to a team with a stronger chance to win a world championship or somewhere that could have lined his pockets with real gold.
So why Team Liquid?
"Because Team Liquid has him," CoreJJ said, pointing at Doublelift.
At the upcoming world championships in Europe, Team Liquid will have both of them, another title shot as the ultimate goal.