When Team Liquid announced the signing of Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng with just three weeks remaining in the North American 2017 Spring Split, fans were stunned. The need for change from the LCS mainstay — the franchise, formerly under the name Team Curse, has been in the League since the beginning — to jump up in the standings from last place and avoid relegation was clear. But no one quite expected that change to involve one of North America’s highest profile players (who was previously on a break), and a move from former world champion AD Carry Gwang-jin “Piglet” Chae to the mid lane.
In the first week after one of the largest mid-season roster changes in NA LCS history, Team Liquid went 1-1 after falling in their first game to league leader Cloud9 and taking down Team Envy to leap frog them in the standings from tenth to ninth.
Heading into Week eight, Rift Herald had the chance to talk to Team Liquid Co-CEO Steve Arhancet about his thoughts on the roster moves, their season so far, and what they are focusing on ahead of four of the organization’s most important games ever:
Rift Herald: Right off the top, I wanted to get your sort of gut reaction, last week, to seeing Doublelift on your team, on Team Liquid, after playing against him for so long.
Steve Arhancet: Honestly, it felt a little comfortable. I have known Doublelift for a long time, prior to the start of Season One and we used to play together on Team Curse. I helped Doublelift out when he was looking to earn some money to stay in esports and play professionally. So we’ve got a good relationship from working together then. It was just great to see him with the team and he is exhibiting a lot of leadership and helping the guys and it was great to see that. So, yeah, it just felt comfortable.
RH: So, it was kind of a new way to connect with somebody you had worked with within the scene but never in that way?
SA: Yeah, never in that way so to speak. I mean Doublelift and I used to play together I was Support and he was AD Carry and we played in competitive matches so I was kind of used to that. And I coached the All-Stars team for China and at the time it was like Xpecial, Doublelift, Scarra, I think it was Saint and maybe, Dyrus. From that kind of coaching management perspective I had worked with him then. So, it was good to just kind of reconnect and see him playing under the TL banner. While it’s temporary it was great. It was good to see him and he is busting his ass and trying his hardest for the team.
RH: In the process of retooling the roster mid-season when did it become apparent that Doublelift was going to be an option?
SA: We started tryouts, I guess, three weeks ago because we knew that we had to do something in order to improve the performance of the team and I think more of the same wasn’t going to have dramatic effect on the performance of the roster. We started thinking about how we could move things around.
There are some restrictions as far as what we can do with the visa process for bringing in any imports if we had chosen to do that, so we were kind of limited to the NA pool. Then from that NA pool there were a number of players that were already contracted with other teams and the NA CS teams already contracted. It is a very short list of free agents if we wanted to do any roster changes. So, at that time we reached out to pretty much anyone that you could expect, Doublelift being at the top of that list. If you think to yourself what available AD Carry that is not playing competitively right now that is available, Doublelift comes to mind.
I reached out to Regi to see if we could get something done he was not interested. So we looked into other options and did tryouts with a number of AD Carries including Youngbin and as it got closer to the deadline I applied additional pressure to see if we could get something worked out with TSM and Doublelift. We were able to come to some terms that were acceptable by all parties and it worked out.
RH: You talked a little bit about that feeling in the middle of the season, knowing you needed to make some kind of change to this roster. Can you talk about how you balance the need to give a new roster time to adjust and, sort of, the need for immediate results?
SA: Yeah, every roster is going to need some time to synergize and gel to get to the point where they are performing at peak performance, but for us we are in a situation where we have less to play with. Time is of the essence and the six matches that were following these changes mattered so much. So, we had to think more creatively and one of those is a more significant roster change instead of just more different coaching, different thinking, different ban pick.
While it would be most optimal to have the time to evaluate all of these different options and have the team synergize we were in a position where we couldn’t do that. Some of those were decisions that were made in the beginning of the split with the roster and we were in the position we were in, we are gonna make the most of it. And that’s what we did.
RH: Was the idea to move Piglet into the mid lane versus the more utility focused AD Carry meta of the moment, was that kind of something that had been kicked around for a while or was it more of a decision that came as a result of the changes needing to be made?
SA: It was the latter. It would have never been an option if Piglet was not already comfortable playing midlane. And also his desire to play in the midlane. That kind of sparked a discussion amongst the coaching staff and Piglet that this may be a potential option.
At that time it was, ‘I have been playing midlane in the past prior to AD Carry and I play mid lane in solo queue and feel pretty comfortable on it I would like to be able to be able to do damage in team fights instead of being a CC bot, so what about this.’ We wanted to test it out see how it would work. How would Piglet play in the midlane.
We had an opportunity to have him play it in scrims and he was killin it. He was playing really well in scrims. His communication, his gameplay, his mechanics, his teamfighting, his damage per teamfight were all great. It was unanimous that piglet in this role made a lot of sense based on the information we could gather at that time. And that was for all the coaching staff and the players. It was kind of the obvious choice at that point.
RH: Do you see him, in the future, if AD Carry moves back to the more damage dealer focus do you see him moving back, or do you think this will be a more permanent move for Piglet?
SA: I think it is way too early to tell on something like that. We are real focused on what is right in front of us right now instead of the hypotheticals of what things are gonna be like in six months.
RH: What were you looking to learn from -- we have heard multiple times that Doublelift isn’t going to stay on this roster after this end of this split -- so what were you hoping to learn by bringing in such a veteran player and a veteran voice to the team and to this roster?
SA: We hoped to learn some stuff with macro play, rotations, objective control, communication, leadership on comms, obviously laning. Doublelift brings a lot of experience with regards to those things based on his track record in the LCS. But I think even more than what we hoped to learn is our probability of winning. So that is what we are focused on. We are trying everything we can to win these next four matches in the LCS. We are not as focused on Doublelift teaching the team everything that he can. It is more, let’s learn as a team what we need to do from both the coaching staff and other players -- not just exclusively Doublelift -- to be best prepared for LCS day as a team.
RH: Do you feel since making that move you guys have been put in a better position to win?
SA: Yeah, abso-fucking-lutely.
RH: Just from the performances last week, what did you take away from those. Were you pleased with the general results?
SA: Yeah. We made the change and we had two weeks of practice before playing C9 before our opening debut with Doublelift and I think those games went okay. I don’t think anyone expected us to do really well out of the gate, with limited practice and a new roster. In the following, getting the win that we did was great. I think a lot will be shown in these next four matches and how we do when we have had a little more time to prep with the team and prepare for the games. I think, at least initially, I have been please, but the most important matches are to come.
RH: Are there any teams in particular that you are more looking forward to as barometers of where you guys are, or where this roster is?
SA: You know, I think the TSM match will be fun. If we end up beating TSM I think we can be considered worthy enough of a playoff team. And I am kind of excited for that match.
RH: Are playoffs still where you have your sites set. It is kind of an open field now especially with FlyQuest losing a few games, there are so many playoff spots open. Does that sort of give you renewed hope that it would be a possibility.
SA: Mathematically speaking, it is a possibility. We have to win all of our games and also things have to happen with the other teams to make it work, as far as their performance and winning and losing particular matches.
With all of that being said, since it is still a possibility we are going to shoot for it and we are going to see if that is something we can obtain. And if we lose one game of the next four games and whenever we lose it then we are going to be shooting for that seventh eighth place spot so we can avoid relegation and make it into that Summer Split.
RH: Over the last couple seasons Team Liquid has gone into these splits with, more or less, a ten man roster. What has the move away from that been like?
SA: I think it was a detriment to Team Liquid to move away from managing a challenger team. I have managed challenger teams ever since I started this whole thing and because of that experience and managing Curse Academy, and Team Curse, and Curse EU, Curse Australia, and Team Liquid, and Liquid Academy, and Team LoLPro. We have always had a set of players that were always available to play in matches and give some players a break in a particular week, to optimize performance of the roster, to have healthy competition between the main squad and the challenger squad that we could scrim against.
That all went away when we moved into the first split of this season and there are a couple reasons: 1) the cost associated with maintaining a challenger team have steadily increased over time due to increased interest from new investors to start challenger teams and field them in NACS and 2) the Riot rules changed where you were no longer able to promote from the NACS into the LCS and sell your team.
So, that is a pretty shitty selling point to potential players, ‘ come play for our challenger squad and if you qualify into LCS you can’t get into LCS, the spot is given to someone else.’ So, I don’t think that really bodes well for player motivation and some of that talent goes to other teams that actually can promote into LCS. I think it has been a bit of detriment, but logically for the right reasons.
RH: How has the inability to use that to foster incoming talent changed the way you guys approach looking at new players.
SA: Yeah, I think, for us, we have put more focus onto the substitute roster for the main team, we fill five subs and wish we had more. We don’t really approach it too differently in terms of the level of thought and consideration that we have given to each player that has come into the TL roster in some capacity. We just identify certain roles that may be more attuned to having a possibility of playing the LCS and then having them onsite and working as positional coaches to optimize performance for the squad and the team.