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With Worlds 2021 on the horizon, the second seed representatives from the League Championship Series, Team Liquid, are one of 22 teams from across the globe that are gearing up for their biggest and most important event of the year. The 2021 League of Legends World Championship will feature each region’s best players, all fighting for the same goal: to stand atop the mountain and hoist the Season 11 Summoner’s Cup.

After a long 2021 season that only saw their upgraded roster play a total of four games together in the summer regular season, TL is heading to Reykjavík, Iceland for Worlds. This will be their fourth straight appearance. With their superstar top laner and star jungler finally putting it all together, Team Liquid look poised to improve on their 3-3 group stage record from last year and make it into the knockout stage for the first time in the organization’s history.

Team Liquid (LCS) Worlds 2021 starting roster breakdown

Top: Barney “Alphari” Morris | Signed in November 2020. Formerly a member of Origen
Jungle: Lucas “Santorin” Larsen | Signed in November 2020. Formerly a member of FlyQuest
Mid: Nicolaj “Jensen” Jensen | Signed in November 2018. Formerly a member of Cloud9
Bot: Edward “Tactical”  Ra  | Signed in December 2019. Formerly a member of TSM Academy
Support: Jo “CoreJJ” Yong-in | Signed in November 2018. Formerly a member of Samsung Galaxy

How they got here

After a decent 3-3 showing in the group stage at Worlds 2020, Team Liquid entered 2021 at a crossroad. The team could either run it back with the same roster or look for improvement.

Team Liquid chose the latter and made two big splashes in free agency. First, they picked up legendary European top laner, Alphari, who previously played for Origen. Alphari managed to pick up all-LEC honors in the top lane despite his team finishing in dead-last in the 2020 summer split.

They also replaced Broxah with 2020 summer split second-team All-LCS jungler, Santorin. And with those two significant upgrades, TL looked like the most complete team in the LCS and became an early favorite to conquer the LCS.

After winning the pre-season Lock-In tournament, TL were expected to start off the spring split at the top — but instead they faltered. By the end of Week 3, Team Liquid were a mediocre 5-4. But something clicked for them starting in Week 4 and they went on a tear, winning seven of their last eight games and finishing only one game away from first place.

Their two big pickups in the off-season paid dividends. Santorin and Alphari both finished second and third in the “Player of the Game” standings respectively and TL overall had four of their five starts on all-pro teams.

At the Mid-Season Showdown, TL marched into the winners finals before Cloud9 defeated them. In the losers bracket, Santorin was abruptly benched, citing health issues. But with Jonathan “Armao” Armao stepping in to replace him, TL returned in the grand final for a rematch against C9. Even with their back up jungler, TL pushed C9 to the brink, but they came up short in Game 5 and C9 moved onto MSI.

Since results carried over to the summer, TL started off feeling good, as they were still only one game behind first place. But the first game of the summer split would be the last one the five starters would play with each other. Santorin made his return, but one game into the season, Alphari was benched for personal reasons. Thomas “Jenkins” Tran took his place until Week 6. But by the time Alphari returned, Santorin had already taken another medical leave. The team looked shaky until the last week of the season when the starting roster finally came together. After back-to-back wins to close out the summer split, TL entered playoffs as the fifth seed.

In Round 1 of the LCS 2021 Championship, TL were matched up once again with Cloud9, who also had a lackluster summer. But the third time was the charm for TL, as they finally beat C9 3-1 to move onto a Round 2, where TSM were waiting. By winning that match 3-1, TL cemented themselves as a top team in the league and clinched their spot at worlds.

Still, their work was not done. In the winner’s finals, TL defeated 100 Thieves 3-2 to move onto the grand final where 100 Thieves got the run back and ended up taking their first LCS Championship, leaving TL to once again finish in second place.

Players to watch

Although CoreJJ is a World champion, all eyes are on Alphari. He is making his first trip to Worlds in a different region, doing so as the biggest acquisition for TL entering the 2021 season and, by far, the best top laner in the LCS.

When Alphari did play in the summer, he dominated. Outside of his Kill/Death/Assist ratio, Alphari led all other top laners in the region in nearly every other statistic, and by a wide margin.

The most egregious difference is in laning phase statistics. He outplayed other top laners so hard that he managed to have an average gold differential of 364 at 10 minutes, which is a full 100 more than second place. Similarly, his Creep Score diff at 10 was more than double that of the top laner in second place at 13.7. In Team Liquid’s group, Alphari is the best top laner, but he will still be tested against MAD Lion’s İrfan Berk “Armut” Tükek and Gen.G’s Kim “Rascal” Kwang-hee.

Another player to keep an eye on is Santorin. The TL jungler is making his second straight Worlds appearance after playing last year as a member of FlyQuest. Last year, Santorin was a catalyst that allowed the NA underdogs to finish with a respectable 3-3 record, which included a win over semi-finalists, Top Esports.

Despite a near non-existent summer split, which could be attributed to health issues, Santorin had a fantastic spring split. In his last full split, he led all junglers in KDA, gold difference at 10 minutes and experience difference at 10 minutes. It will be interesting to see if Santorin can call back to his Worlds 2020 and 2021 spring form.

How TL can succeed at Worlds 2021

TL’s starting five is better than the starting five they had at the last Worlds where they barely missed out on the Knockout Stage with a 3-3 record. Not only that, the group they got drawn into this year seems to be easier as well. Although MAD Lions are the favorite to win the group, second place is up for grabs. Gen.G did not have a good end to their summer season, and TL’s strongest player, Alphari, may be the difference in their matches.

Depending on how play-ins go, TL have a realistic shot at getting into their first-ever Knockout stage. But at the same time, the players need to be on the same page. The team finally put their roster together in the playoffs, but they are going to have to keep it together, especially if their group ends up drawing the LPL fourth seed, LNG Esports, from play-ins, as expected.