Esports Spotlight with Team Liquid's Steve Arhancet on what went wrong in the LCS, rebuilding the CS:GO team and becoming more than just a team

by Daniel Rosen Apr 21 2017
Thumbnail image courtesy of Riot Games

Team Liquid is in an interesting place for one of the oldest and prolific esports organizations. Their Dota 2 team has been mostly quiet in the lead-up to the Kiev Major, their CS:GO team is going through a rebuilding period and their League of Legends team narrowly avoided relegation after an abysmal split.

But co-CEO and co-owner Steve Arhancet isn't too concerned about Liquid's future. After getting into the trenches with the League of Legends roster during their relegation scare, he's feeling more confident about what's next for Liquid.

Arhancet says Liquid surviving their fight to avoid relegation left him with mixed emotions. On one hand, he's proud that the team pulled together and made it through. On the other, it's hard to deny that getting to that low point wasn't tough for Liquid to deal with.

"We got a couple of battle scars on us now that are still healing, but they're very important," Arhancet said. "I think most teams are going to go through some period of wins and losses. It's about how we respond to the call to arms, how we act when things are tough, and I think it really defines us as an organization. We f**king make it happen, we get shit done. And you can try to knock us down and we'll f**king come back fighting, I kind of like that a little bit."

Arhancet says that Liquid gained a lot out of the difficult season. It helped the team identify their weak links and work on fixing those issues, namely their mid lane, coaching staff, and the speed at which they were adapting.

In terms of coaching, Arhancet says that the organization found a new head coach in former Cloud9 and CJ Entus coach Jang "Cain" Nu-ri, who was able to cut through some of the compatibility issues the organization had with their big-name coaching lineup. On top of that, he says that Liquid's decisions going into the season were effectively undone by the 2017 Spring metagame. Reignover and Piglet are talented players, but the control jungler and weak AD carry meta didn't do them any favors.

Finally, Arhancet points to their weak mid lane as the final issue on the pile of problems that plagued Liquid in 2017 NA LCS Spring Split.

"We built a lot of confidence based on Golden's demonstration in scrims and practices, he was just f**king killing it. Going toe-to-toe with Bjergsen and Jensen and doing extremely well and affecting the map, doing well in lane, he was a monster in scrims. But it did not translate into the spring split the way that we had expected, and that did not bode well for us."

Team Liquid ended the 2017 NA LCS Spring Split tied with Team SoloMid for the most three-game series played all season. But unlike TSM, Liquid's win rate was far from positive and it had an effect on the team's morale. But Arhancet said it wasn't hopeless when he stepped in to go hands-on with the team. Everyone was upset, but they had to work to fix the problems fast, which didn't leave a lot of time for moping.

Arhancet points to Liquid's shocking win over TSM as the turning point for the team. He says it was the moment that they knew they could make it all the way back.

"I think in my entire career that may have been one of the most rewarding victories," he said. "Because of how down and how many people were expecting us to not do well. When we came through and delivered, all because of so much hard work and dedication from our players, it was just extremely rewarding. That's when I think things turned around for us. When we saw that result."

Meanwhile, Liquid's CS:GO team is going through a similar rebuild. About a year ago, Liquid was a Top 10 team with Oleksandr "s1mple" Kostyliev, but the team struggled after he left for Natus Vincere. Since then, Liquid has shuffled their roster a few times but has yet to find a team that can bring them the kind of success they had in 2016.

The most recent moves saw Liquid sign Peter "Stanislaw" Jarguz and Russel "Twistzz" Van Dulken, which keeps Liquid firmly focused on the North American Counter-Strike scene. While the new roster has yet to prove itself on a big stage, Aharncet is sure that they can put up results when it counts.

"These last few months, we have been working to really identify what it means to put together the best foot forward, and I think we've accomplished that actually," he said. "Stanislaw and Twistzz have been amazing additions to the roster and under Zews' leadership I am just fully confident in the team's ability right now. We have been dominating in scrims and delivering results in our recent games."

The one place where Liquid does seem to be stable is in their fighting games division. Juan "Hungrybox" Debiedma dominated the Super Smash Bros. Melee scene in the first half of 2016, and Du "Nuckledu" Dang ended the year with the first ever Capcom Cup victory for a North America player. Both have maintained most of their momentum in 2017, and Arhancet feels like it comes from the support system Liquid provides to its players.

"I think the main takeaway here is that we developed a relationship with Nuckledu and Hungrybox well before the extreme growth in esports. We, and when I say we I mean back int he day with Curse included, we were the second esports organization to ever sponsor a street fighter player, and we picked up Nuckledu.

"We've been impressed by our ability to support athletes and empower their competitive careers, greater than other esports organizations or what players could do on their own. And that to me is the core value of what we are as an esports organization. I'm proud to say that those guys have done so well and trained so hard and we've been along for the ride and part of the success."

What that support looks like varies by player, but Arhancet says Liquid has training facilities set up in Los Angeles and the Netherlands for players to bootcamp and offers sports psychologists to help work through stress and anxiety.

And Arhancet says that things like that, are part of Liquid's direction moving forward. TL wants to be bigger than just a pro team, which is interesting given the organizations coming into the space now who want just that. Liquid is continuing their focus on their pro team, but is also putting resources into 1UP Studios, which produces esports video, and Liquid Media, an influencer media company that connects gaming personalities with brands. Essentially, the Liquid of the future could be as much of an agency as an esports team.

"We have the resources to really deliver on all the agency-like benefits that you would expect from being a top tier athlete so that players can kind of plug and play and be like 'Oh, maybe I'm not a notable athlete but I want to be. So if I'm winning, how do I create content around myself,'" Arhancet said. "Well we've got a massive production company that can film an entire documentary about your life. So having that has been instrumental.

"We're becoming much more than just an esports team, and that's what's in TL's future."

Daniel Rosen is a news editor for theScore esports. You can follow him on Twitter.