Last season was not a fun one for Team Liquid. The team entered the 2015 season with an almost unattainable amount of hype behind them, moving from the Curse brand to become apart of the long-lasting eSport organization Team Liquid. They brought back key pieces from a roster that almost made Worlds the year before, and they inserted two intriguing Korean imports — one of them being former world champion from 2013's SK Telecom T1, Piglet.
Piglet had a down year to finish 2014, failing to return back to the Worlds to defend his title, and eventually being removed from SKT's starting roster in the offseason.
With his Korean options limited, Piglet moved to the Western region, signing with the Curse organization, hoping to get back to the form that made him the world's scariest AD carry back in 2013 when he won the world title.
The start of 2015 was no easier for Piglet. His debut was derailed to visa issues, and his first game in North America was a disaster after forgetting to set his runes before the game started. He wanted to carry like he did back in Korea and individually outmaneuver players, but the team suffered even when he was doing well by himself. The team responded and gelled better with Piglet's substitute, Keith, leaving the former champion to look like he was an overpriced puzzle piece that was never going to fit into Liquid's future plans.
Eventually, after getting disciplined, benched, and getting countless chances to adapt to his new home and surroundings, Piglet began to find his form. Liquid's regular season was a disaster with their constant hot potato action in the bottom lane, and Liquid's other Korean import, Fenix, was also having his own troubles trying to fit into his team's scheme.
But, when Liquid needed results the most, Piglet and the rest of the team came together to beat out Team 8 in a final day tiebreak to make the playoffs, and they went on to trounce Counter Logic Gaming in the first round.
The Summer season is what fans expected from Liquid when their proposed starting lineup was flaunted in the preseason. Piglet has worked through the growing pains that ailed him in his first NA regular season; he is still a bit of a loner on the team during games, only partaking in 63% of TL's overall kills (last out of all starting AD carries), but he makes up for it by winning his lane and diligently pushing down towers with his split pushing.
Along with his solo play and dominance in the early-game, Piglet simply doesn't die; he's only faced the grey screen 11 times this season in nine games, keeping himself safe while also dealing out the second highest DPM of any ADC in NA, 567, and only trailing Gravity's newly-acquired Altec.
Along with Piglet's maturity, Liquid's greatest strength is their dominance in the first 10 minutes of game. With three capable threats in all three lanes, Liquid are the best team in the league when it comes to gold differential in the first 10 minutes, currently averaging 619 more gold than their opponent.
The only other team as close to them is Counter Logic Gaming, another team that fancies themselves as an orderly, clean map movement team that houses a trio of possible carries in all three lanes. Quas, Fenix, and Piglet are all averaging 5 more CS in that same time period compared to their lane opponent, winning the lane early with help from Dominate and Xpecial to take early towers to grow their lead.
Liquid's biggest difference from their disastrous Spring campaign to their current success is priority on grabbing towers in the early game. Last season they were dead last in the league when it came to taking the first tower of the game, trailing both relegated Coast and Winterfox in that category with a lowly 26%.
That's been entirely flipped around for the first nine game of this season, raising that stat to 67% (currently first in the entire league). Liquid are rampaging through the laning phase, grabbing advantages in every lane, and then converting those leads into dragons, towers, and vision across the map that sets them up for a mid-game with a sizable lead.
With all three lanes showing that they can carry, it's been Dominate's job on the team to step back and become a facilitator instead of a carry. He's on pace to have 10 less kills than he did last season, but he's moved those stats into creating opportunities for his teammates, participating in 80% of his team's overall kills and, if he keeps on track, looking to break his assist total from last season by 50.
Piglet and Quas are arguably the strongest one-two punch when it comes to carries in the league, and Dominate with Xpecial are the supports that are setting them up to have their impressive stats to begin the season.
At 6-3, Team Liquid aren't a shoe-in for a spot in New York as one of the final teams in the playoffs. They can still find themselves in a hole from shaky, inconsistent play — which, honestly, can be said for every team in North America — and can get beaten in the pick/ban phase on occasion that leads them to a loss.
But, when Liquid draft well and can get the match-ups they want in lane, there is not a stronger team in the league. They will beat you in the early-game, punish you with their individual skill and march to a victory that makes them look like the undisputed best in North America.
Last season, Liquid could and maybe should have gone with Keith as their starting AD carry. It took up to the final game of the season, a tiebreak, to secure their spot in the playoffs and escape from a seventh placed position that would have crippled their chances at advancing for Worlds.
Instead, they believed in their investments in Fenix and especially Piglet, not flinching when their dreams could have imploded before them before the second half of the year even began.
Patience, practice and — to take a page out of CLG's book — faith, is what led Liquid from almost disaster to believing they can become the first non-TSM/C9 champion in NA LCS history come the end of August.
Special thanks to OraclesElixir.com for the stats compiled in this article.
Tyler "Fionn" Erzberger is a staff writer for The Score eSports who covers the North American LCS and Korea's Champions. You can follow him on Twitter.