Keeping Keith: How a World Champion Got Benched

by Tyler "Fionn" Erzberger Feb 17 2015
Thumbnail image courtesy of OGN

"Dear Liquid fans,

We have come to a very difficult decision that we hope will lead to better performance. We have decided that it would be best to have Piglet sit out for week five of the North American LCS. Our substitute player, KeithmcBrief, will move to the starting roster." - Peter Zhang, Team Liquid's Head Coach.

When you hear that a Season 3 world champion was benched for an amateur — one that was eliminated in the qualifying rounds of the Challenger scene — the customary reaction is to gawk and ask why. 

On paper, Piglet is vastly superior to Keith. While Keith was asking people to duo queue with him on ladder, Piglet was winning championships in front of thousands of fans live,  and millions at home.

It isn't even that Piglet was on one of the most dominating teams in League of Legends history with SK Telecom T1 in Season 3. It's that Piglet was a vital part, being the secondary carry alongside Faker, that was needed to step up when the mid lane couldn't get rolling. Without Piglet on that team, SK Telecom T1 is never as good as they were. You can talk about how amazing Faker is and how he's the best player in the world, but the numerous championships and their victory at Worlds never happen if Piglet wasn't their AD carry.

When the 2013 season came to a close, the best AD carry on Earth was Piglet. Not Imp, Uzi, or any of the fantastic carries in China that people will argue for. Piglet was a mechanical monster that picked up the slack of SKT countless times when Faker got camped and the other players on the team couldn't be a threat. For all the praise Faker got during Season 3 for being the 'God of League of Legends', Piglet was just as necessary to the success that came to SKT.

Now, in 2015, Piglet is no longer the best AD carry. In truth, he's probably not even in the Top 10, following a down year on SKT and getting pushed out for his replacement Bang from SKT T1 S. There were rumors that he wanted to stay in Korea and play in Champions, but no team was really hurting for an AD carry with the halving of teams in the league from sixteen to eight. With no place to go in Korea, Piglet finally signed with Curse (who would soon become Team Liquid), and the hype train began.

Piglet, one of the best AD carries in the Eastern scene's history, was going to be paired with Xpecial, one of the best supports in the Western scene's history. What could go wrong? Piglet's headstrong style could be reciprocated by Xpecial, who had shown time and time again that he could work with any style his AD carry played with.

The first few weeks that Piglet played after finally getting his visa taken care of have been lukewarm at best. Liquid first tried to appease their ace carry by putting him on a comfort hyper carry pick in Vayne, but quickly realized that while the champion might work for Piglet, it definitely does not work in the current meta without a team built around the pick. Maybe in 2013 the Vayne picks would have worked, back in a time when one or two players could consistently carry games, but in 2015 you need an all-around team to win. SK Telecom T1 even now is seeing that, only 4-3 through the first half of Champions Korea, despite having the consensus best player in the world at the helm.

Do I think Keith is better than Piglet? Honestly, no. 

He came in and performed well in the opening week, but a lot of those kills and big plays he made were manufactured by Dominate's amazing jungle play and Xpecial's expert supporting. 

His opening opponent was Team Impulse, who were playing with a sub in the top lane and using a rookie amateur player from Korea as their shot caller. This obviously led to Impulse resembling a chicken with its head cut off, not really knowing how to interact with each other and making it easy for the better coordinated Liquid to cut through them.

His second game was against CLG, who were playing with a sub in the top lane in place for ZionSpartan. This was a better test of his talent against the strong bottom lane duo of Doubelift and Aphromoo, but it was another case of taking on a hamstrung team who weren't at full strength. Dominate and Xpecial were the stars of the first week for Liquid and Keith was a benefactor that made the most of an opportunity, but the key was how comfortable they played.

Piglet can be three times the player Keith is, but what does it matter if the team doesn't gel? As we've seen with Elements and other 'super teams' across sports, it doesn't matter if you throw champions and people with the best stat lines on a single team. If the players on the team can't feel comfortable with each other and play well as a unit, then it doesn't matter how much money you spend.

There has been no secret Piglet has had a hard time adjusting to America. He's a young adult coming to a foreign country where he has no real understanding of the language. He goes from a structured environment in SK Telecom where he was close to his mother to a team that is transitioning over to a new brand and where he is away from his family for the first time.

It's hard. Some players like Lustboy have been able to acclimate nicely to their new surroundings, but not everyone can be Lustboy. From the food, to the lack of communication, and even new headphones that he felt were uncomfortable, Piglet had to change his entire routine and move outside his comfort zone when he moved to Liquid. He had played on the same team for two years with the same coach, and he was comfortable with the players around him. Now? Even if he and the team get along personally, playing together is an entirely different story.

What makes it even worse is that Piglet is the carry on Liquid. He came to Liquid with the mindset that he was going to be the ace on the team, and the rest of Liquid believed in that role for him and have tried to play around him. Thing is, when a player is uncomfortable and things aren't gelling correctly in the team, it's almost impossible for the No. 1 carry to do his job. If he came in as a more utility-like player then we might not even be having this conversation, but as long as Piglet wants to be the ace, these issues are going to continue popping up until rectified.

So, is Piglet done with this Week 5 benching? He's 2-4 in his first three weeks on the team, and if Keith can come in and keep his record perfect, where does that leave Piglet? 

Personally, I think Piglet needs time. Lots of time. If Keith can keep up the strong play, keep Piglet as a sub and have him continue practicing and getting used to living and playing in the United States.

As it stands now, Piglet is not the answer to Liquid's problems. He and his team are not on the same wave length and Keith fits into their dynamic better. The dream scenario would have been for Piglet to come in, destroy everyone and for Liquid to win the NA LCS spring season, but that's the problem — it was a dream.

Piglet is headstrong. He takes losing as hard as any pro in League. He isn't happy with a victory unless he feels like he did a good enough job in his own mind. He wants to win and to be the best carry in North America, but right now that isn't happening. From this point forward, Piglet needs to change not only his mindset, but realize that nothing is going to be handed to him because of his legacy as a player.

Liquid might have picked to keep Keith for Week 5, but it's now Piglet's job to prove his work ethic by to adapting to a new surrounding. 

When CJ Entus passed on Piglet back in 2013 for Space, Piglet worked diligently until he got picked up by SK Telecom T1 and became the player that won a world championship.

Now it's time to get back to work, once again to prove his doubters wrong.