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Four splits. Four titles. Team Liquid has successfully turned their infamous “fourth” meme into complete ownership of the number with their fourth consecutive title, which is a thing that has never been accomplished before in NA. It’s a run of dominance that may never be matched again and it’s not even over yet!
In their way this time was a Cloud9 team that had lost five consecutive Finals going into this weekend, and after starting the series up 2-1, it felt like C9 might finally end their curse. That it turned into their sixth straight loss, though, is going to be something that will weigh down their path forward in the LCS, and it’s these close losses that tend to stick with you the longest. There is no consolation for being close or for being far away. There is only the result, and once again it is a loss.
The series, though, will go down as an instant classic because it went the distance. Game 1 raised a lot of eyebrows right from the pick/ban phase, as it seemed like Team Liquid managed to secure many of the strong meta champions that they favor (like Xayah, Rakan, and Aatrox). C9 countered with an obscure Veigar pick and a Karma top pick that had been on the losing end of games all weekend. And the result was, well, pretty much as expected.
TL turned their early lane pressure (from all three lanes) into some kills and then slowly built up their lead. Even though C9 managed to win a few skirmishes thanks to some clutch lanterns from Zeyzal, it was never enough to turn into a key objective. Liquid, however, continued to apply pressure and eventually turned a good engage into some kills and a Baron. The resulting snowball finished off C9 before their Veigar and Sivir picks were able to properly scale.
Despite being knocked down so hard in Game 1, C9 did what they’ve done all split, which is persevere. A new draft strategy that focused on securing strong solo laners for Nisqy and Licorice (Irelia and Kled respectively) allowed them to apply much more pressure in the early game. Combined with an early gank on bot lane very early in the game, that meant that C9 was able to apply pressure on every single lane.
They then followed the individual lanes advantages by winning with a tried-and-true strategy — strength in numbers. A couple of extremely aggressive dives flipped in C9’s favor almost solely because they just had more people there, and TL repeatedly failed to answer in kind. Thanks to Kled’s ultimate, C9 managed to severely limit the space TL could safely maneuver on the map, which allowed them to choke out vision and secure enough Barons to eventually close out the game, even though they lost a couple of fights during sieges due to sloppiness.
That pressure would not relent. C9’s relentlessness continued into Game 3, where they again were repeatedly faster to fights and faster to pull the trigger on engages. Even with a decent early lead, TL was unable to control the tempo of the game, and it felt like C9 was able to win fights simply by using their abilities first. A see-hero, kill-hero kind of mentality allowed C9 to scare TL back into their base and apply a bit of a blackout of vision on TL just like Game 2.
This time, though, C9 would win on the back of just one Baron. There would be no overeagerness and no missteps as they turned the Baron into a single game-winning push. C9’s comp featured four bruisers in Sejuani, Sylas, Aatrox, and Alistar, all of whom just got up in TL’s face and prevented them from making any sort of finessed plays. And just like that, C9 would find themselves up 2-1 and just a single game away from securing their first LCS title since the 2014 Spring Split.
Team Liquid, though, is not the three-time reigning champion for nothing. After being pushed into an 0-2 hole against TSM in the Spring Split, this is a team that’s developed a lot of playoff resilience. This was also showcased in their Semifinal five-game set against Clutch Gaming. Game 4 started with Impact being punished heavily for an early laning mistake against Licorice, but Jensen and Doublelift managed to win their lanes to even out the pressure and keep Liquid on even footing in the game. From there, TL denied all of the aggression that was critical to C9’s success in the previous games.
In the mid-game, a massive mistake from Jensen nearly cost TL the Baron, but they managed to stave off C9 to reset the game to an even state again. From there, some excellent disengage and re-engage tactics from TL allowed them to win fight after fight. A team fight win became a Baron, and the Baron became the game. The victory would push TL to their 3rd consecutive Game 5 in the LCS Playoffs, dating all the way back to the Spring Finals as well. A win would give them an unprecedented fourth consecutive title.
And Game 5 turned into a showcase for the greatest team NA has ever assembled. Doublelift and Jensen dominated the game — at one point Doublelift even spammed a taunt over a dead Xayah as if to make it extremely clear that there would only be one champion. An early countergank from Xmithie led to a kill on Sneaky, which seemed to be a symbolic moment for how the series turned. C9 would attack, and Liquid would thwart.
With that, the game slipped entirely from C9’s reach and would continue to move further and further away. Jensen finished the game with an 11-0-5 scoreline to punctuate his decision to leave Cloud9 after last year. The grass was in fact, for him, greener. All week a lot of the talk revolved around Jensen and Nisqy’s budding rivalry, and at least for now, it is Jensen who carves the path forward.
Liquid, too, will rely on him as they push into the thicket that is Worlds. With a Finals appearance at MSI and another domestic title, there is no doubt as to what the goal is for Liquid in Europe. It’s a championship-or-bust kind of expectation that hasn’t been cast on an NA team since TSM’s dominance, and it will be a heavy burden for the team to carry.
They have a month to stew in these expectations and to wrestle with demons of their own pasts — each of these players needs to run past their histories, just as Team Liquid has run past its own in North America. For now, though, they can celebrate their fourth title. It is a mind-boggling level of success that none of us will be able to truly appreciate until it’s over. History is being written, and we are all witnesses to the story.