What Good Integration and Substitutes Can Do For An LCS Team - TL's Armao
Ever since the beginning of the League of Legends Championship Series (LCS) 2021 season Team Liquid have had full confidence in their Academy team’s jungler, Jonathan “Armao” Armao. Something that has been rarely seen in the LCS so far.
Prior to Armao’s appearance as the jungler for Team Liquid, teams’ and organisations’ confidence in substitutes were few and far between. One team that comes to mind was the old Cloud9 roster from 2019 that would make substitutes to switch up playstyles or play specific champions. Being able to substitute in both Robert “Blaber” Huang and Greyson “Goldenglue” Gilmer at a whim added an extra card to the deck.
But this wasn’t the case for Team Liquid. It wasn’t a substitute for the sake of changing playstyles in a game during the regular split or even in the middle of a best-of series, it was out of necessity.
It all started with the LCS Lock In tournament in which the team played three games with the substitute jungler getting up to a 2-1 record before starting, Lucas “Santorin” Larsen was finally able to play after being delayed due to COVID-19 related visa issues. This record eventually allowed them to be in a good position to start the playoffs in which they won after they defeated Cloud9 3-2 in the finals.
Fast-forward to now, the Mid-Summer Showdown (MSS), and Team Liquid are in need of his services once again due to Santorin sitting out the finals weekend because of migraines. This time around, he wasn’t playing round-robin regular season matches, he had to play to qualify for the Mid-Season Invitational (MSI). Both for the Team SoloMid lower bracket finals match and later the finals match versus Cloud9 — their fifth encounter this year — Armao needed to show his best performances in order to help Team Liquid get that sole spot to represent North America at MSI.
A problem like this is a death knell for any team no matter the calibre of the substitute. Not being able to utilise all of the synergy and playstyle that the team has built up for months in the most crucial part of the split is something that even enemy teams don’t wish for, for the most part. Although Armao is an experienced player, having previously played for Echo Fox, Dignitas and Team SoloMid, many were writing Team Liquid off. But this didn’t phase Team Liquid’s players, nor the team’s coaching staff. The previous experience at Lock In was something the team could and did rely on for both their match versus Team SoloMid and later the finals match versus Cloud9.
“We scrim against the Academy team quite a bit and that’s something we wanna do to make sure that we’re actually building talent. We see the level of play that John brings to practice in the Academy games or scrims versus Academy and the LCS. I think John’s a super good player, he showed that in this whole weekend,” Team Liquid strategic coach, Jonas “Kold” Andersen said. “It’s usually weird when you have to change a player; you would be very nervous. But actually both me and Josh — obviously the situation sucked, no one is gonna deny that, but we were pretty calm about it because we know the level of play that John has. I’m very, very proud of him and I think all of us are.”
Team Liquid took care of Team SoloMid when everyone counted them out even though they have the best talent of any team in the league on paper alongside Cloud9. They later pushed Cloud9 to a game five, in which every game was competitive besides the final one. This is not just a plug and play of the jungler, all of the team has to buy into this from the coaching staff to the players. Every single member of the team has to buy in to be successful. That is something that the head coach of Team Liquid, Joshua “Jatt” Leesman, has been an advocate for since day one of the season.
“We’re pretty integrated with our Academy team at Team Liquid, it was one of the goals that we had coming into 2021. And we had not only Kold and myself who frequently spoke with the Academy team, [but] we also had Haxdefender who’s our two-way coach. He’s kind of a strategic coach for the Academy team who’s worked a lot with John, and he was able to also be here for us this weekend,” Jatt said. “You add that with the fact we have literally, as John said, played with this five-man roster before during a tournament already like three months ago. I think it was just knowing that we have strong players all throughout our organisation. Then it was just everyone kind of collectively buying in that we have the confidence to do it as five. I actually think we proved it. I think that’s how we kind of had confidence. We know John’s a good player, and we knew he’d be able to step up.”
When a team has to play with an unexpected substitute it leaves many left to wonder the "what ifs". What if Santorin was able to play? Would have they beaten Cloud9? The fact that this question can be asked, and it actually carries more weight more than normal looking at Team Liquid's overall performance, is just a testament's to the team's strength. Not just the strength they possess innately within all of its starters, but with the strength, they possess in buying into playing with Armao. If Team Liquid hadn't bought into playing with Armao earlier in the season, if they hadn't got the opportunity to play with him in the Lock In tournament — even though it was an unfortunate circumstance — who knows how the series would have gone.
Images via Riot Games