Nicolaj “Jensen” Jensen and North America’s Team Liquid opened up their 2021 Worlds campaign with a win on Monday, toppling the European champions MAD Lions in a 27-minute game. Jensen finished with a scoreline of 3/2/11 on LeBlanc, which he said all went according to TL’s plan.
“We had a pretty clear win condition on how to play our champs,” Jensen said in a post-game interview with Upcomer. “It was a comfortable team composition for us to play with, but going into the game, I didn’t know what to expect from them since they’re from another region and we haven’t played them in a long time.”
Team Liquid and the Lions met on the international stage at the previous year’s world championship in the play-in stage, where TL also left as the victors. Since then, though, their trajectories have gone on different paths, with the North American franchise failing to win either of its 2021 splits.
On the other side of the Atlantic, the Lions won both spring and summer in Europe while making a deep run at the Mid-Season Invitational. They narrowly fell to reigning world champions DWG KIA in the semifinals.
Heading into the main event group stage, the narrative surrounding the North American region has been dire. After failing to send a single team to the knockout rounds in the past two world championships, rumors have swirled across social media about the region’s follies in scrims and its uphill battle to stay relevant at the 2021 event.
“A lot of it is just bulls***,” Jensen said of such talk. “It doesn’t really make sense, so we can’t really do anything but ignore it, to be honest. There’s no point in acknowledging bulls*** like that. We just focus on our thing. The stigma around NA has always been bad because we are the worst major region, so it makes sense, but I think people are blowing it way out of proportion.
“I don’t think even going into worlds it was nearly as bad as people made it out to be because we’ve shown time and time again that we can compete with other teams.”
After qualifying for the worlds, Jensen noted that Team Liquid took a short break to recalibrate before heading off to Europe for the tournament. At first, the time away resulted in some rust for their team, as they had to learn the meta and get back in shape, but their practice has rounded into form right as the group stage began.
“As time went on, we started getting more and more competitive with the best teams in the world,” he said. “So this worlds, in terms of practice, has gone a lot better than it has in the past, especially when we play against the better teams.”
One factor that has helped Liquid remedy their inconsistent form throughout the year is the returned, constant presence of their star jungler, Lucas “Santorin” Tao Kilmer Larsen. After being forced to bench himself multiple times during the domestic campaign due to migraines, even sitting out of the spring split final versus Cloud9, the veteran has reestablished himself inside the starting five.
In the game against MAD Lions to open up their tournament, Santorin made a statement on Xin Zhao, covering the map in pressure and tag-teaming with other Liquid members to find advantageous fights.
“[He’s] super important,” Jensen said. “I think he’s doing a bit better than he was in NA, so that’s really good. But of course, if you’re not healthy, you’re going to play worse. I think today and the past few weeks we’ve been scrimming, he’s been playing phenomenally, so it feels good to have him back.”
And although TL started their six-game group stage with a win, Jensen doesn’t want to get ahead of himself. Though winning was an essential step toward their goal for qualifying into the knockout stage, games against China’s LNG Esports and South Korea’s Gen.G Esports still lie ahead, along with a rematch against a MAD Lions side shooting for revenge.
Jensen said he believes the team’s experience, their self-proclaimed “boomer” mentality, will be vital in navigating the rest of the group stage to book their ticket to the eight-team playoffs.
“Thank you to the ones who believed in us, and hopefully, we changed some people’s minds about NA as a whole,” he said. “But you know, it’s important we celebrate the win, but one game doesn’t matter too much. We have to keep working hard, and also, it was just EU, so it’s not a big deal really, we gotta keep preparing for the other teams.”