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What I make of TL Tactical, as a TL fan

With Doublelift headed back to TSM, all signs seem to be pointing to the 19-year-old Tactical as his replacement on the Liquid roster

Photo by Colin Young-Wolff/Riot

After pretty smoothly transitioning from in-person events to remote games to finish out the domestic seasons around the world, competitive League of Legends has already moved to the usual offseason wackiness quicker than most traditional sports. This past week we saw the quick progression of one of the biggest roster moves in years: Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng, one of the most storied players in North American history and an anchor of Team Liquid’s recent run of four straight NA titles, will be moving back to TSM.

There will surely be lots of discussion about Doublelift’s return to his old team, focused on his struggles this past split, or that he’s dating TSM’s current president, or maybe even how he fits into TSM’s roster construction. But today, here, I’d like to talk about the other corresponding move: Team Liquid seemingly betting it all on 19-year-old Edward “Tactical” Ra as his replacement.

The latter news appeared to be confirmed in extremely esports fashion, when CoreJJ answered a viewer’s question about it on his stream by saying “Yeah, he’s the new AD carry” while duoing with Tactical. So the usual grain of salt here that there’s been no official announcement, but it certainly seems like a likely outcome.

(Update, 4/28: There has now been an official announcement, Tactical is the starting ADC for Team Liquid).

As a long-time Liquid fan, I had mixed reactions to this. Since the news came out that TL was shopping around Doublelift a few weeks back, I’ve been talking about it a lot with my brother (another TL fan, and one who is highly optimistic about all of this) and some of our other LCS-fan friends. At the time, my thought was something like this: I have no problems with TL pursuing offers for any of their players, but their recent success (and most importantly, the recent investments that have surely catapulted them to the top of the LCS budget chart) have re-calibrated my expectations for the team.

During the era of the “fourth place” meme, TL was clearly outclassed by the likes of TSM, C9 and CLG, so for me, finishing in fourth often (but not always) felt like a successful split. But with the recent investments and the clear willingness to spend a lot of money on the product, there’s no reason TL shouldn’t be competing for domestic titles nearly every split. Obviously it’s never that simple, and no team can win forever, but the expectation to compete at the highest level has been set by both their recent successes and their financial ability to continue doing so.

There’s no doubt Tactical is talented: not just anyone can come up through the TSM and TL academies, and he performed adequately in place of Doublelift in three matches this past split. But I’d be lying if I said it didn’t give me pause to hand the reins of one of the most important positions, on what should be one of the top teams in North America, to a mostly unproven teenager.

In his brief time on the Team Liquid roster last split, Tactical played two Miss Fortune games (a win against TSM and a loss against CLG, which is quite the feat considering each of those teams’ records last split) and one Kalista game (a win against 100 Thieves). His first two games were wins, which were quite notable for a TL team that was struggling to that point. After losing his third game, TL returned to Doublelift and went 1–4 to finish out the split, missing the playoffs for the first time since summer 2017.

Because of the small sample size, it’s hard to get much out of Tactical’s stats from his team with Team Liquid, but we’re going to look at them anyway. Even though he fell behind in lane (-2.3 CS difference at 10 minutes, fourth worst among NA ADCs), his 5.5 KDA ranked fourth among all players at the position (the “TL fourth” meme will never die) and his 561 damage per minute (higher than the worldwide pro average on both champions he played) was second only to Bang.

Again, a massive “small sample size” warning, but those numbers give some credence to the idea that Tactical could be the next in what has been a recent trend in North America: home-grown ADCs. Cody Sun and Johnsun are both recent NA products who have hit the ground running at the position, but they’ve both done so for teams that most would not consider major contenders for the North American title.

In other positions, you can find even more encouraging examples with Cloud9. The Spring Split champions featured young NA talent at three different positions (Licorice at top, Spring Split MVP Blaber jungling, and Vulcan at support). Each of those players had LCS experience before this split, but two of them (Licorice and Blaber) debuted directly with C9 and seemingly required little to no time to get up-to-speed.

Even with positive examples to point to, there’s no getting around the element of risk that comes with starting a 19-year-old with limited top-flight pro experience, and that’s where fan expectation comes in. If TL was still a team who didn’t have championship expectations, I would be a lot more willing to just fully buy in on this move. When C9 brought in Licorice and Blaber, they had not won a domestic title since 2014. In that situation, it’s more reasonable to take flyers on younger players and see if it can play out in the long-term.

But with such a disappointing spring, TL fans have to be hungry for a return to form in the summer — I know I am. And maybe that does come through Tactical. I’m not going to pretend I know more about the game, the roster, or Tactical as a player than TL’s decision-makers. But it’s hard not to think of the value that signing another option at AD carry could bring, one that could challenge for the role and push Tactical even harder to improve.

One other thing worthy of note: whenever I’ve talked about this with my brother and our other LCS-fan friends, a frequent question asked in response to my concerns is “Who would you sign, then?” And reader, let me tell you … I do not know. But I am expressing this opinion as a fan, not as an analyst, and I do have enough faith in TL’s management to know they’d be better suited at finding someone who could reasonably challenge for the role than I could.

As a TL fan, I’m willing to embrace Tactical as the undisputed starting ADC … eventually. I’ll be paying attention to what the org and players are saying throughout the offseason, and it helps to know that CoreJJ has been duoing with him and by all accounts they seem to get along. I’d still feel better about it if there was some meaningful competition for the job.